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BELLEAIR BEACH — The City Council decided Aug. 3 to put off approval of an annual contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, citing concerns that some police services need to improve.

Mayor Joseph Manzo said the police “do a great job in keeping down crime and their professionalism is excellent.” But, he said, citizens have come to him with questions about the “quality of life” services provided by the police.

The neighborhood patrols, traffic patrols, enforcement of regulations throughout the city — these and other services are not happening to the extent they used to, Manzo said.

“We are a premier community,” Manzo said. “We let it go, and our city’s going to go with it.”

Residents want to see the police out on the street patrolling, City Manager Lynn Rives said. Council member Jody Shirley said, “I rarely see them on the streets anymore.”

Shirley also said enforcement is lacking throughout the city.

“I was walking my dog at the marina recently and watched person after person park their car and walk to the beach without paying the parking fee,” she said.

Council member Dave Gattis noted he does not see the deputies patrolling the causeway bridge like they used to.

Several council members questioned whether the police may be spending too much time in Belleair Shore, which shares the police contract with Belleair Beach, patrolling the beach accesses there and doing house checks of their huge waterfront homes. The share they pay of the contract’s cost entitles them to about 45 minutes of police time per shift, Rives said.

“That’s just enough time to unlock the gates and open up their beach accesses” every day, Council member Glenn Gunn said.

The contract cost for 2021 is $504,000 for Belleair Beach, and $35,000 for Belleair Shore. The formula for dividing the cost was developed by the Sheriff’s Office.

“We may need to talk to them about adjusting their formula,” said Council member Robyn Ache. She said it seems Belleair Shore is requiring more patrolling to enforce their ordinances such as the one banning beach umbrellas.

Discussion of the police contract was postponed until the Aug. 16 commission workshop, where Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and Capt. Mike Leiner will be invited to attend and answer council members’ and residents’ questions and concerns about the police services provided.

Manzo promised, “We’re not going to defund the police.”

Police supporter has a (loud) following

Every morning, for about an hour and a half, there has been a couple standing on the sidewalk along Gulf Boulevard near Sixth Street, waving a sign backing the police. “Support the Blue,” it says.

Manzo said the problem is that motorists loudly toot their horns in support. “It sounds like Times Square,” he said. “It’s becoming unbearable.”

Rives said, “Realistically, because of their constitutional rights, you can’t tell them they can’t do this.” He said he told them, “Maybe you need to put a sign up that says ‘Please don’t honk.’”

It was decided Rives would talk to them again.

Belleair Shore to keep beach umbrella ban

An attempt by Belleair Beach officials to have Belleair Shore rescind their recent ban on beach umbrellas was not successful, Manzo reported. The ban was a special concern to Belleair Beach residents who are allowed to use the beach accesses in Belleair Shore to reach the beach.

Manzo and Rives, along with Council members Gunn and Shirley, went to the July 21 Belleair Shore commission meeting (via Zoom) to discuss a possible reversal of the beach umbrella ban. In an earlier conversation between Manzo and Belleair Shore Mayor Robert Schmidt, Schmidt had promised to bring the topic up for reconsideration.

At the meeting, reported Manzo, “No sooner had it got out of Mayor Schmidt’s mouth about trying to postpone this (ban), than it was immediately shot down. There was no consideration.”

The beach umbrella ban was seen by Belleair Shore as a way to limit outside residents from their beach. In that town, residents own the beach in front of their property. There had recently been an influx of people using the beach from outside the area.

Belleair Beach residents who live across from Belleair Shore are legally allowed to use the three beach accesses to reach the beach, under terms established years ago. Those residents felt their right to use the beach was being taken away when they were prohibited from using beach umbrellas there.

Manzo said he intends to sue Belleair Shore over the beach umbrella ban. He said a couple of other citizens have told him they also intend to sue.

Talking term limits

Among the Charter amendments to be put on the ballot for voter approval in November is one that puts term limits on council members. If it passes, Belleair Beach will one of few local beach communities with any limits on elected officials’ total time in office.

The proposed amendment prohibits council members and the mayor from holding office for more than two consecutive terms.

Belleair Beach lengthened council member terms from two years to three in a 2011 referendum vote.