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IRB examines law enforcement costs
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INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – A discussion item on Tuesday night’s City Commission work session agenda focused on law enforcement services for next year. As evidenced by that dialogue, the current provider of law enforcement services, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, does not have a lock on next year’s contract.

City Manager John Coffey presented his “SWOT” analysis outlining the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as a starting point for the discussion. Under opportunities, he included the option of contracting with other agencies.

The city had provided the Sheriff’s Office with the SWOT memo. The PCSO provided written comments in response, plus Sheriff Everett Rice himself showed up at the meeting with a cadre of his officers to provide additional PCSO response.

The discussion quickly turned to cost issues. The city law enforcement budget is $675,273 for next year, an increase of 10.05 percent over last year. This increase is on top of last year’s unexpectedly large increase of 13.4 percent. Last year, the PCSO had predicted an increase of only about 8 percent for the upcoming budget year, plus a 5 percent increase for 2006, with future increases predicted at about 3 percent, according to Coffey.

Commissioner Jeremiah Carmody asked Rice what he expected the increase to be for 2006, commenting, “a 25 percent increase over two years is a little unreasonable, knowing full well we’re going to see a contract increase next year.” He said he was asking for the information about future increases to help determine “whether or not we’re going to retain you guys.”

Rice responded that the intent last year was to spread a large increase resulting from pay hikes and standardization of costs across the county over a 3-year period to avoid an inordinately large one-time budget impact. Future increases should not come as a surprise, he said. Rice did not want to be pinned down to an exact number for an increase next year.

Carmody asked if a 3-year contract could be negotiated. Rice said he could not guarantee a cap on increases in future years without a corresponding cut in services. Coffey suggested that a multi-year contract could include parameters to address yearly increases in expected variables such as health care costs.

The city has invited Largo’s police department to submit a law enforcement proposal as an alternative to PCSO. Coffey expects to receive it in mid-August. Rice commented that PCSO does not charge Indian Rocks Beach for liability insurance, while Largo no doubt would.

Commissioner Bill Ockunzzi said he was pleased that the PCSO agrees with the possible formation, as suggested by the city, of a consortium among barrier island municipalities to consolidate law enforcement services in the future.

Further discussion of law enforcement services will take place after Largo’s proposal comes in.

In other business, the commission reached a consensus on Ockunzzi’s proposal to coordinate a meeting of all Pinellas Suncoast Fire and Rescue District cities to discuss tax increase avoidance strategies.

“In 45 minutes I found ways to go from deficit to a $145,000 surplus,” said Ockunzzi.
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