Council to Holloway: Come Back With Cost Savings
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER -A decision on the fate of the Clearwater Police Department (CPD) has been deferred for another month. At their meeting last week, the Clearwater City Council left on the table $8.5-million in annual savings that would result from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office (PCSO) proposal to take over law enforcement in the city, establishing their preference for a home town police force under City Council control.
They did not, however, reject the Sheriff's proposal. Instead, the Council gave direction to City Manager Bill Horne to begin negotiations with the police and clerical unions and "come back to the City Council within 30 days with a recommendation on savings."
Those potential savings will not only be critical for the future of CPD, but will also affect the quality of life services provided by other city departments, including libraries and parks.
Faced with a 2010/11 budget shortfall estimated at about $7.6-million, the city is looking at across-the-board cuts. According to the minutes of the May 6th meeting of the Library Advisory Board, Horne has asked his department heads to submit budgets with 5-percent reductions from their 2009/10 expense levels.
For the Clearwater Public Library System, that amounts to $285,000 in cuts. As a result, Library Director Barbara Pickell plans to close both the Beach and North Greenwood branches.
But even a 5-percent across the board reduction in General Fund expenses would fall about $2-million short of closing the city's projected deficit.
Mayor Frank Hibbard said this week that he expected Horne to find savings in vehicle costs, where the Sheriff's proposal would save about $1.2-million annually, and in restructuring supervisory positions to have more span of control, essentially eliminating a number of Sergeants.
Hibbard said that he also wanted to "get some reasonable concessions from the FOP union." Much of the cost advantage of the Sheriff's proposal is attributable to fewer perks enjoyed by Sheriff Deputies, such as receiving no compensation for standing-by for court appearances, and off duty special event details being paid at a lower rate of pay and without overtime premium.
"Ultimately we'll have to look at some reduction in level of service if we want some of the savings we would have realized with the Sheriff," Hibbard said, "It won't be officers, it will be supervisors."
Horne and CPD Chief Holloway will be presenting their cost-cutting recommendations to the Council at their June 14th worksession and June 17th meeting.
For his part, Sheriff Jim Coats is willing to consider helping the city find piecemeal savings in their law enforcement service, including taking over CPD's vehicle maintenance, hiring-out his own Deputies for Clearwater's special events, and consolidating CPD's call center into his own.
Beyond that, Coats has not taken his proposal off the table. Should the Clearwater City Council find CPD's cost-cutting effort inadequate, Coats remains willing and able to provide full law enforcement services to Clearwater's citizens at a price $8.5-million less than CPD's current year budget.
Return to Current Edition