tampabay.com

Council leans toward sheriff for policing

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published March 28, 2007


Formal proposals for policing services will be sought from the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office and the cities of Belleair and Clearwater.

Despite the hoped for competing proposals, most council members appeared certain Monday that the city will end up contracting with the sheriff.

One factor that may influence the council's decision is the fate of the city's remaining full-time police officers. While the Sheriff's Office has pledged to guarantee them jobs, it is not known if the two cities can make the same offer.

Council members also were concerned that the two cities would not be able to offer the same level of service as the sheriff.

"My inclination is to go straight to the sheriff. I don't think we should waste our time," council member Richard Crowl said.

Last year, the Sheriff's Office said it could provide around-the-clock patrols for about $382,000 annually. City Manager Reid Silverboard said he is not sure if either Clearwater or Belleair could provide the same level of service.

Silverboard was directed to contact the three law enforcement agencies, as well as the city of Belleair Shore, which presently contracts with Belleair Beach for policing services.

Whatever law enforcement service is selected, the city anticipates saving about $250,000 by not operating its own police department and an additional $500,000 or more in the cost of building a new city hall.

Eliminating the police department translates into a reduction of about 2,000 square feet in the proposed city hall administrative area.

Plans to build a new city hall were put on hold last summer when increased construction costs added nearly another million to the estimated $3-million price tag. The present 1950s-era city hall is too small, does not meet handicapped requirements, and has a roof that leaks in even light rainstorms.

Architect Ward Friszolowski, who attended Monday's special council meeting, said he will prepare "rough sketches" of alternate new designs of both the building and its placement on the municipal site. That site was expanded late last year with the purchase of properties to the east and west of the existing city hall.

A special six-member committee of council members and residents was authorized to review the redesign proposals and bring recommendations back to the full council.

A similar committee was formed to recommend procedures for finding a replacement for Silverboard, who will leave in May for his new post as city manager in Treasure Island.

During a lengthy discussion, a majority of the council made clear that they believe the city needs "professional" management.

Silverboard is the city's first manager since the charter was changed several years ago.