BELLEAIR - A straw poll on the future of the police department is due to be counted today and indications are that residents are split on keeping the department as it is or going to the Sheriff's Office for police services.
It is a question that has been around for years and comes to the fore every once in a while. The latest go-round was triggered by disarray in the Belleair department going back to the early months of this year.
Commission members are obviously deathly afraid to stick their necks out on the question so instead of making any kind of forthright vote, they opted for a poll - totally unofficial and without any force - to take the temperature of the citizenry.
Whatever the results of the poll, which consisted of residents filling out cards and sending them to the town hall, commissioners presumably will have a guide to which way the wind is blowing.
When the town lost its police chief earlier this year, neighboring Largo came in and administered the Belleair department.
All the time, the Sheriff's Office - which subsequently has taken over for Largo - stood by and observed proceedings, knowing full well by its lights that it could do the policing job much more inexpensively in Belleair than the taxpayers here are paying.
Estimates from the PCSO put the cost at well less than $1 million - a savings to Belleair taxpayers of a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Yes, Belleair is an upscale community with high property values - but there are limits. There is a rising tax revolt in Pinellas County and the Belleair situation is static. There is no growth. Additional money has to come from ad valorem revenues.
One big reason for the push by some for the town to own and provide electric service was to create a source of major revenue. But that idea has gone by the boards.
Belleair lists its cost of the police department in fiscal 2007 (it begins October 1) at $1,357,699. According to Sheriff Jim Coats, his department could do the job in the first year for $1,131,320. That includes start up costs of $382,660, but this figure could be reduced by available and usable assets.
Those figures represent a savings of $226,379 for Belleair.
In 2008, the cost forecast for Belleair's present police department is $1,297,541 (less equipment would be bought). PCSO cost for that year would be about $788,000, Coats has estimated. That is a savings of more than $500,000 - a half million.
The benefit to the town is expanded merely beyond raw costs and savings. With the PCSO the town would have available top professional resources.
So many factors militate in favor of the Sheriff's Office as the police agency for Belleair, it is a wonder that members of the Town Commission could not face cold, hard facts and replace a troubled department.
The history in the area is one of failed local police forces. Belleair Bluffs went to the sheriff some years ago as did Indian Rocks Beach after both cities suffered through inadequacies with their own force.
Dunedin long ago came under the sheriff's wing as did Madeira Beach.
Those cities that made the move don't regret it and praise the performance they get from the PCSO.
Return to Home Page
Return to Current Edition