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Combine Police, Fire departments, leader suggests

The Port Richey city manager will propose the cost-saving idea to the council tonight.

By CAMILLE C. SPENCER
Published November 28, 2006


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PORT RICHEY - In an effort to save money and make the city's Police and Fire departments less top-heavy, City Manager Jerry Calhoun has hatched a plan: reorganize both into a new Public Safety Department.

Although the plan's financial benefits could take about three years to materialize, a combined department could save the city of 3,200 residents about $75,000 a year, Calhoun said. It would be accomplished through attrition and early retirement payouts for the police chief, police captain and fire chief.

That figure takes into account the biggest change of the proposed plan: eliminating the police and fire chief positions and hiring for an umbrella position titled public safety director, Calhoun said.

"You get some efficiency because you have one person over two departments now, so it's one person seeing both sides," he said.

Two jobs would be lost during reorganization: Capt. Bill Downs will retire in 2008, and a corporal is slated to leave the Police Department.

That would shrink the department's top brass from eight to six people.

The proposal would need the City Council's blessing. Calhoun plans to present the idea at tonight's 7:30 meeting at City Hall, 6333 Ridge Road.

If a Public Safety Department were created, it would look like this:

Police Chief Bill Sager and fire Chief Tim Fussell's positions would be eliminated, creating one public safety director. Meanwhile, two of the Police Department's corporals would become sergeants, upping the total number of sergeants to three. The city's fire captain would become a lieutenant, and an assistant chief of police will be created to supervise the sergeants.

Salary, benefits and holiday pay for the eight people who currently run the Police and Fire departments is $465,462. That figure would drop to $389,729 if the departments combined, saving $75,732.

A number of smaller Florida cities have merged their police and fire units into a single department. While Calhoun is looking to shuffle the top jobs, other cities like Daytona Beach Shores have gone even further.

The Volusia County town of 4,600 integrated its police and fire departments in 1998 so that all responders had training in law enforcement, fire and emergency medical techniques, said Michael Booker, city manager. Booker said initial savings were reaped by eliminating a separate building for the fire department and decreasing response times.

But training someone to be a policeman, firefighter and an EMT can be costly, Booker said.

The department has 40 sworn officers.

"Most people who want to be fire people don't want to be police," he said. "But we've had instances where a policeman has responded to a shooting and been able to save someone's life by CPR."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at 727 869-6229 or cspencer@sptimes.com.

[Last modified November 28, 2006, 06:55:12]


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