Clearwater Deals With School Safety, Parks, Bed Taxes, Short Term Rentals
Law suits against the city inevitable
By Bill Lopez
CLEARWATER - Members of the city council met with staff to review issues and prepare for the Thursday, June 19 council meeting at city hall.
Key issues include the library café lease, school resource officers, city park patrols, bed taxes and short term rentals.
Also covered from the agenda calendar, is the issue of utility flags, locator marks and paint marks at street right-of-way or easements.
Florida law prohibits removing these locater markers where underground utility lines are located because their removal may endanger an underground project. Improper removal is a misdemeanor in the City of Clearwater.
Utilities, power, or communication companies who own underground utilities place markers in the public utility easements and right-of-way areas when advised by the Sunshine State One Call of Florida service.
If a resident or a company plans to dig within specific properties or easements, the Public Utilities Department should be notified at 562-4960 concerning the need to flags the area. Valid flag postings are good for up to 30 days, according to council notes.
Library Cafe Lease - The Monday' work session agenda also covered the lease of cafe space in the Clearwater Main Library to Bernard F. Dillman for a term of three years. After a review of the responses to the RFP, a committee of library and city staff and community residents selected Dillman to operate a cafe in the Atrium space in the Clearwater Main Library.
The contract covers a term of three years at a base rent of $500 a month plus 5 percent of sales above $2000 a month. The menu will provide soup, salads and sandwiches. Dillman expects to be a hands-on owner/manager who will closely oversee the operation.
School Resource Officer Contract - City of Clearwater and the School Board of Pinellas County may agree to provide for continuation of the School Resource Officer program at Clearwater High School, Countryside High School, Kennedy Middle School and Oak Grove Middle School. The resource officer program will be for a one-year period commencing July 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009 if approved by council or modified.
Under the terms of the one-year agreement between the School Board of Pinellas County and the City of Clearwater, the City will provide law enforcement and related services to the schools during the regular school year. The assigned officers (1 per school) will provide instruction in law education, serve as resource persons, conduct investigations, provide security and maintain the peace. These service workers can also make arrests and provide support services.
The annual cost of salaries and benefits of four officers over the one-year period will be $323,749, and will be funded from the Police Department's operating budget. Total annual reimbursement from the School Board will remain at $196,046, reflecting no increase to the City for SRO services during the 2008/2009-contract period. The cost incurred by the Police Department is offset by the benefit of the program to the community and the Police Department. The continuation of the School Resource Officer Program beyond FY 2008/2009 is dependent upon funding being included in future budgets.
The Police Department has maintained a good working relationship with the School Board. School Resource Officers have been assigned to Clearwater High School since January 1, 1985 and Countryside High School since January 1, 1986.
This is the second year School Resource Officers will be assigned to Kennedy Middle School and Oak Grove Middle School. More information about the program is available from Beth Daly-Watts at 562-4333.
Proposal to Discontinue Park Patrol Program - The Police Park Patrol Program will end as of June 19, 2008 if approval to do so is passed by the city council.
This service came about in response to complaints of nuisance and criminal activity in city parks. The City Council and police department implemented a 6-month pilot Park Patrol Program on Dec. 1, 2007 that relied partially on the C-Tracs System.
Despite publicity and efforts to make the program effective with citizen response, almost all police activity in the Park Patrol Program has been self-initiated by the assigned officers.
For the five month period ending April 30, 2008, Park Patrol Officers worked a total of 152 four-hour shifts, made 32 arrests on various charges, enforced 28 traffic infractions, wrote 125 offense/incident reports and made direct contact with more than 300 individuals.
Park Patrol Officers focused on 23 specific parks and public spaces. Of the 32 arrests, 2 were for felonies and the majority (21) was for city ordinance violations such as open alcohol violations. The majority of the offense reports written were Field Interview Reports (a non-criminal report documenting the officer's contact with a citizen).
The cost of the program is averaging $1,436 per week, or $24,415 to extend through September 2008. Annual cost for 2008/2009 is estimated at $74,672. Although citizens who have made contact with the police department or the officers on Park Patrol have been supportive and appreciative, the program is considered to be in effective from a budget perspective.
The police department proposes that on-duty patrol officers and community policing officers continue to patrol the parks as time and resources allow. Supplemented safety and service support is also to be continued by AmeriCorps members and volunteers.
More information is available from Beth Daly-Watts at 562-4333.
Bed Tax Usage - The usage and extension of the Pinellas County bed tax is presently under review by the City of Clearwater. This matter is being considered and may appear on a future city council agenda.
Short-term Rentals -According to city council workshop data, residential short-term rentals on the beach which were not involved in a recent lawsuit have no legal determination protecting them.
In the event short-term rentals are subject of enforcement efforts, the city will process them, according to the work session bulletin. The Planning Department, Legal and the Council are going to discuss administrative approaches in another work session with members of the city council.
Council discussion included comments that the city is very likely to be sued over this issue.
Contact Bill Lopez at Blopezmmm@aol.com.
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