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Deputy Alex Siem, the city’s assigned community policing officer, presents his bimonthly law enforcement update to council members.

SEMINOLE — The city has approved a new one-year contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, which will continue to provide law enforcement services at a cost just shy of $2 million.

That’s almost 5% more than the city is paying under a similar contract covering the current fiscal year.

On Aug. 23, the City Council voted 7-0 to approve the new contract for patrol services, a dedicated community policing deputy and six school crossing guards. Deputy Alex Siem is the Sheriff Office’s current community policing designee for the city.

Council member Tom Christy had been a lone voice among local elected officials in urging the city to consider creating its own police department. His past efforts to steer the city toward such a move included writing an op-ed column for the Seminole Beacon just over a year ago, after council colleagues nixed his recommendation to study such a move.

“It is difficult to fathom why some on the council would pass on improving services to the residents at far less financial burden,” he wrote in the May 5, 2021, column.

Christy claimed moving to a city-operated police department would save “a half-million dollars annually.”

But on this evening, Christy went along with his colleagues, making for a unanimous vote to approve the latest contract with the county Sheriff’s Office.

“I particularly like our Deputy Siem,” he said.

Christy, who once served on the Tonawanda, New York, City Council, elaborated on his current position after the meeting.

“The PCSO does do a good job for us and for some time now, something like 50 years or more,” Christy wrote in an email exchange with Tampa Bay Newspapers. “Changing hearts and minds can take some time.

“Having served previously on a city council that provided full city services, including police and trash pickup in-house, you tend to view these things differently,” he continued. “Do I think we should at least include these things in our long-term planning? Probably. But we currently have a contract with PCSO, so when the contract comes up annually I will support it.”

Other council members offered similarly upbeat assessments of the sheriff office’s services to the city.

“I talk to a lot of residents, and they tell me they will not give up the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office,” council member Trish Springer said.

For the record, it was no surprise the new contract was approved, as the move was telegraphed earlier this summer. At a June council meeting, a consensus quickly was reached to remove from the council’s annual policy-retreat agenda an item dealing with policing alternatives that had been suggested by an unnamed council member.

At its latest meeting, the council also voted unanimously to extend for two years a pact to have the city-operated Seminole Fire Rescue Department provide emergency first-responder medical services to unincorporated county areas outside the city limits. Over two years, the council anticipates receiving an estimated $6.5 million or so from the county to cover the cost of providing those services in the city and the surrounding unincorporated neighborhoods.

Council also approved, without dissent, a new five-year agreement to accept services by the Pinellas County hazardous materials response team, which are provided at no cost to the city.

 

Tennis courts

Among other actions, the city voted to accept a $50,000 grant from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance program.

The money will be used to fund the resurfacing of city tennis courts and to add new landscaping. The grant requires no city matching funds.

The council also agreed to pay $4,250 to a handful of tribute bands and others for the Music in the Park series, an annual fall tradition in Seminole City Park.

Additionally, council members approved a staff recommendation to put up for sale a 2001 fire engine, a 2004 pickup truck and some used and unneeded firefighting equipment.

The council’s next regular meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in council chambers at City Hall.