TREASURE ISLAND – City commissioners voted 4-1 on April 1 to not move forward on a cost proposal for law enforcement services by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
After narrowly deciding to move forward on the possibility, Treasure Island Commissioners Carol Coward and Phil Collins reversed their previous positions.
Commissioner Tim Ramsberger had proposed the city look into the cost of using the sheriff’s office as a possible cost-saving measure to avoid a future city tax increase.
Ramsberger pitched the idea March 25. A decision to move forward narrowly passed by a 3-2 count.
However, between that meeting and April 1, the issue picked up steam with residents.
“I can’t believe we don’t want to at least find out what that proposal would look like,” said Ramsberger. “It wouldn’t cost us much time at all.”
Three city residents spoke on the issue – one in favor and two against.
“The mayor said he hoped this wouldn’t divide the city,” said resident Johnny Waters. “I hate to say it. It’s going to divide the city.”
Bob Weber of Sunset Beach said he favored getting a proposal from the sheriff’s office.
“I’d like to see us entertain the idea of getting the numbers from the county,” Weber said. “The sheriff’s office will give you a price for the services we desire. We owe it to the citizens to look at the numbers and see where we stand and if it’s something we want to put up for a referendum.
“We don’t really have a revenue problem here,” Weber added. “We have a spending problem. It’s not because the city is doing anything wrong. Costs go up. It’s not getting any cheaper to run a (police) department.”
Former Mayor Julian Fant said he was opposed to the idea.
“I’ve been through three of these exercises over the years,” Fant said. “It’s a waste of staff time and staff money on a futile exercise. I hope you’ll consider tabling this and giving it much further thought.”
For Collins, it was an issue of numbers. City leaders were handed a petition with 173 signatures of residents who favored a sheriff’s office proposal. But Collins said he would like to see more numbers.
City Clerk Dawn Foss said the city charter states 20 percent of the electorate, or about 1,200 voters, sign a petition for a citizen-initiated referendum to take place.
“Unless we get a petition with that 20 percent, I’m not in favor of taking this any further,” Collins said. “If it gets that far and the people want to vote on it, that’s fine because when the people vote on it, we’ll find that the majority of the people stand solidly behind the TIPD.”
Commissioner Alan Bildz agreed.
“If the residents are in favor of this, they need to get this petition going and they need to force the issue onto the ballot,” Bildz said. “I don’t feel there’s majority support in our city for this. That’s why I’m not in favor of this.”
Coward said she had conducted research on the process and discovered getting the actual proposal wouldn’t be costly for the city but the time invested by the city to appraise the various police items that would be turned over to the PCSO would be excessive. She also said she would like to see more citizen input.
“It’s an emotional issue,” Coward said. “I think until we get more signatures we should let it go.”
Mayor Bob Minning said the feedback he has received indicates there is not “an outcry from our residents to go down this path.”
Minning also said he favored a petition approach.
“If a legal petition is brought forward that shows there’s a desire on the part of the residents to move this forward, OK. Then they have spoken. I’ve gotten some feedback and it’s been 3-1 for keeping the police department as opposed to going out for a (sheriff’s office) bid.”