Despite protests, police jobs cut
By CHRISTINA HEADRICK
CLEARWATER -- The Clearwater Police Department will cut its beach police aide program after all, despite several months of discussing how the program might be salvaged.
Eight part-time police aides were told last week that they would be laid off as of Dec. 1, unless they can qualify for other city jobs, according to the city.
But after the general employees' union complained, the layoff date was extended to Dec. 31.
"I don't think anybody should be laid off during the holidays," union president Steve Sarnoff said. "A few thousand dollars to cover their salaries seemed to be a very small, pocket-change deal."
City administrators said the employees had been given several months' notice of the possible job cuts so they could find other jobs.
Seven other aides have been reassigned, according to Paul O'Rourke, the city's human resources administrator. Some will work as aides at the city marina and airport, while others have been promoted to other jobs within the Police Department, said Wayne Shelor, the department's spokesman.
Since 1988, the beach police aides have helped alleviate traffic jams, reunited lost children with their parents, monitored public parking and provided a police presence at special events.
Beach business representatives have protested the proposal to cut the aides.
"They've taken away an added presence on the beach that took four or five years to build up," said Lou Piano, the president of the Clearwater Beach Chamber of Commerce. "Every business owner here with Chief (Sid) Klein in the room earlier this year voiced an opinion on how important those aides were. And he said how important they were to him. And then they cut them."
To keep its presence on the beach, the Police Department has been trying to start a volunteer patrol program. There are five volunteers so far, although the department would like to have up to 20 by spring break season, Shelor said.
In addition, the department has placed additional community police officers on patrol whenever needed, Shelor said.
The employees are being laid off because the city manager's office declined to allow the Police Department to carry over a surplus from last year's budget to this fiscal year to retain the program, according to an e-mail from Chief Klein, who was taking some time off for the holidays this week and could not be reached for comment.
City Manager Bill Horne said that the city's policy has been not to allow departments to carry over money from prior budgets to the next year.
"It would not necessarily have been fair to other departments" to allow the funds to be carried over, Horne said. "The chief made his call. I'm not going to micromanage his department."
The employees are the first to lose their jobs this year as a result of a mandate that requires city departments to cut 2 percent of their salaries to balance the city budget, O'Rourke said.
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