tampabay.com

Deputies take over Belleair Beach's patrols

By SHEILA MULLANE ESTRADA
Published May 14, 2007


BELLEAIR BEACH - The City Council unanimously made it official Thursday - the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office will begin patrolling the city's streets in June.

"This is a win-win for both of us, " said Sheriff Jim Coats after the special meeting. "It was the right move for the citizens of Belleair Beach."

There was very little discussion of the merits of selecting the Sheriff's Office - the only other offer came from the city of Belleair, which could not match the price offered by the sheriff.

Last March, Belleair Beach voters authorized the City Council to negotiate with an outside law enforcement agency to replace the city's police department, which this year cost nearly $600, 000 to operate.

The annual cost for switching to the Sheriff's Office is just a little more than half that amount. The contract approved by the council and the sheriff sets the annual cost at $381, 973.

Coats said any future rate increases will most likely be based on any rise in the consumer price index.

The city will turn over its vehicles, boat and other police equipment to the Sheriff's Office to defray nearly $200, 000 in startup costs.

If the city needs a boat to service channel buoys or for any other reason, Coats said, his department would provide one.

"This is a good, fair agreement, " said council member Richard Crowl.

The move to close the police department and switch to the sheriff was strongly supported by officers in that department, particularly when earlier this year the city could not meet the police union's salary demands.

Coats said his office will hire the city's four full-time officers and is guaranteeing them salaries that either match what they are earning now or are at the normal starting rate for deputies, whichever is higher.

He said all the officers have successfully completed their application, health screening and background checks.

The officers are expected to start their new jobs June 1, the same day that sheriff's deputies will begin providing law enforcement for the city.

Meanwhile, nearby Belleair Shore, which had contracted with Belleair Beach for patrols of its approximately 50 beachfront homes, is expected to contract separately with the sheriff for law enforcement services.