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Clearwater prepares for costly preparation for Republican National Convention

CLEARWATER — This city's bill to prepare for the August onslaught of the Republican National Convention is in, and it isn't cheap: more than $2.8 million.

The expense is for hundreds of new portable radios and more than $1 million in police and fire overtime leaders expect the city will rack up while the 50,000 delegates, protesters and members of the media are in Tampa the last week of August.

On Monday, the Clearwater City Council will discuss authorizing the spending, which could be reimbursed with part of a $50 million federal grant awarded to Tampa to cover expenses of hosting the convention.

In the meantime, Clearwater would have to cover the costs out of pocket, drawing from general reserves and an emergency fund created to cover hurricane damage.

The suggested budget for overtime — $800,000 for police, $250,000 for fire — shows the extent to which city officials expect the convention impacts could spill across Tampa Bay.

The city also may set aside $400,000 for unforeseen costs and special equipment.

But the biggest portion of the city's $2.8 million cost would come from buying more than 400 handheld and car-mounted radios city police need to tap into a network used by public safety agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

City emergency manager Rick Carnley said the radios will replace decade-old units that are "technically obsolete." The city will save more than $700,000 on the radio purchase thanks to an RNC discount from Harris Corp., the manufacturer.

The city would keep the radios permanently for sworn officers, Carnley said, handing down the old radios to AmeriCorps volunteers who assist the Police Department.

The cost of the radios and the contingency fund will nearly empty the city's emergency operations account, which now has a little more than $2 million in it, budget director Tina Wilson said.

Carnley, who is looking for short-term grants to cover the city's costs, said Clearwater asked for federal reimbursement but was denied. But Tampa police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said all agencies contributing to the RNC effort are being asked to submit budgets and that the department would award money to cover "security-related expenses."

Clearwater police will be among about 3,000 officers from agencies outside of Tampa who will help during the convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Tampa has already budgeted nearly $5 million for body armor, surveillance cameras and tactical vehicles, including an armored SWAT truck. Other costs include $2 million for hotel rooms for out-of-town officers and a $1 million contract for catering officers' meals.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos said he is not worried about getting paid back.

"If Tampa decides to spend that money itself, congressman (C.W. Bill) Young is going to be very upset, among others," Cretekos said. "This is a Tampa Bay convention, and some of that is going to spill over into Pinellas County. I am confident Tampa will realize that."

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater prepares for costly preparation for Republican National Convention 03/29/12 [Last modified: Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:59pm]
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