Holloway Chips Away at Sheriff's Cost Advantage
Council to Give Budget Guidance Tonight
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - Clearwater's City Council worksession on Monday produced a figurative shootout between two of the premier law enforcement agencies in the country. Rather than involving guns, it employed the sharp pencils and refined management techniques brought to bear on the cost of law enforcement in the city, pitting recently appointed Clearwater Police Chief Tony Holloway versus Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats.
Holloway and his staff had circled the wagons in an effort to defend the continued existence of the Clearwater Police Department (CPD) from Coats' proposal to provide more cost-effective law enforcement services to the city. The Sheriff's $26.6-million proposal for 2010/11 is $10.8-million less than CPD's 2009/10 budget of $37.4-million. That proposal was solicited in April by City Manager Bill Horne at the direction of the City Council.
Holloway's presentation on Monday tried to nibble away at Coats' apparent cost advantage while promoting the intangible benefits of retaining a city-managed law enforcement agency. Holloway claimed that the net savings of the Sheriff's proposal, considering $6-million of one-time expenses to make the transition, would be reduced to only $2.5-million in the first year.
Holloway did not address the potential savings in subsequent years, when one-time transition costs would not be a factor.
He attributed nearly $6-million of PCSO's cost reductions to the elimination of 55 staff positions and salary reductions. The Office of the Chief would be hit particularly hard, eliminating a total of eleven positions, including the Chief. Those functions would be absorbed into the existing management structure of the Sheriff's Office.
Roughly half of the staff reductions proposed by the Sheriff, 28.3 positions, would come from the consolidation of CPD's communications center into PCSO. "It's a huge redundancy," said Sheriff Coats," We have the infrastructure in place; we would just need to add a few people."
One area Coats would not cut would be the number of patrol officers. In fact he would increase Clearwater's staffing level of 149 officers to 151 deputies. Coats would, however, reduce the number of patrol sergeants from 23 to 17, employing a flexible, rather than fixed, ratio of supervisors to deputies.
Asked by Hibbard how he might eliminate $6-million from CPD's budget if asked to do so, Holloway responded, "You're going to give up some quality of life services." Saying it would require a reduction in people, Holloway asked, "What type of calls do you not want us handling," and offered several examples including "barking dogs on the beach, pooping on the beach," noise complaints, homeless issues and non-injury accidents.
"When you're talking about - those extra things we do - the citizens pay for those extra things. Could I reduce the budget by $6-million? I could, but those quality of life things that we address - those are going to go away."
Sheriff Coats promised that his proposal, which mirrors Clearwater's current patrol officer staffing, would not reduce service levels. "I would pledge to you that the levels of service that we would provide to the City of Clearwater are equal to or greater than you currently have. Just because we have a different command structure and a different span of control doesn't necessarily mean that would adversely affect the levels of service. I will tell you it does not," he said.
One of the Sheriff's clear advantages is in labor cost. Holloway said that the annual cost of a CPD Officer was $90,250 including benefits versus a cost of only $80,191 for a Sheriff's Deputy.
CPD and PCSO having similar salary ranges, it is largely benefits and extra compensation that comprise that cost gap. Take medical benefits as an example. A CPD Officer is provided with health insurance at no cost for himself, although dependent coverage requires premium payments. A Sheriff's Deputy, however, is responsible for paying 22-percent of his health insurance premium.
Extra duty/overtime pay is another example. While Sheriff Coats claims that his organization operates largely without overtime, Clearwater's officers can earn substantial overtime pay.
A Clearwater Officer working overtime at a special event, such as Jazz Holiday, can earn time and a half, with that compensation also earning the required 24-percent city pension contribution. A Sheriff's Deputy can be hired in an off-duty detail capacity at an hourly rate "substantially less" than his/her ordinary rate, and without the time and a half premium or pension contribution, according to Coats.
CPD also has a more generous compensation policy for court appearance and standby, paying an officer a minimum of three hours pay for standby on a day off, whether he is called to appear or not. The Sheriff's Office pays nothing for court standby on a deputy's day off; he is only paid if actually called to appear.
The differences in personnel costs and compensation result from the different labor contracts that the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) has been able to negotiate with the City and County.
Holloway said during Monday's presentation that the unions are "ready to come to the table and negotiate." John Walser, President of the FOP chapter that represents Clearwater's Patrol Officers, later addressed the Council, but offered no insight into the union's willingness to give away any contract terms that have taken his union years to negotiate.
At their meeting tonight, the City Council will provide direction to City Manager Bill Horne on what to include in his preliminary 2010/11 budget. Will it be to continue operating the Clearwater Police Department, or to outsource law enforcement to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office?
Mayor Frank Hibbard showed his hand in an email to a constituent this week; "We will vote on some direction Thursday, I believe we will give our Chief some direction for reductions," he wrote.
Councilmember Paul Gibson also expressed his inclination to keep CPD, saying that the reductions proposed by the Sheriff could be imposed with CPD.
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