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Gulfport dispatch may be over and out

GULFPORT — The city is one step closer to having all of its 911 calls dispatched by the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

The City Council voted 3-2 Thursday to approve the first reading of its 2011-12 budget, which calls for outsourcing dispatching and parks lawn mowing to eliminate nine positions.

The move doesn't mean a loss of jobs, as the city plans to reassign the four parks employees. Officials say the city has been assured the Sheriff's Office will absorb the five displaced dispatchers.

The vote — recorded after more than 20 residents gave impassioned pleas for and against the proposal — was not only to balance the budget but also to change the way of life in the eclectic community along the shores of Boca Ciega Bay.

Having a full-service Police Department only blocks away is a large factor in Gulfport's small-town feel.

Although 911 calls already are routed to the county, the local police number receives more than 30,000 "nonemergency" calls a year.

Mayor Mike Yakes, who has been mayor since 1991 and on the council since 1986, and Sam Henderson, a two-year councilman and the second most senior, opposed the budget plan. Each made unsuccessful counterproposals aimed at keeping the dispatchers in-house.

"People we are representing are asking to keep this," Henderson said.

"I listened to the people, and the stakeholders in the community say, 'We wish to keep dispatch and the Parks Department,' " Yakes said.

"This is a premature decision. It's a decision we might have to come to sometime in the future, but not now. No one is in favor of this. It takes me an hour and a half to walk through Sweetbay because so many people want to talk about it," Henderson said.

However, council newcomers Barbara Banno, elected this year, and David Hastings and Jennifer Salmon, both elected last year, didn't buy the reasoning. Their majority carried the vote.

"This is a tremendous savings for the city," Hastings said.

"We have to stop the bleeding to save the patient," Banno said.

In other budget-balancing measures, the council voted 5-0 to raise the millage rate from 3.47 to 4 and increase water-sewer and sanitation rates 10 percent.

According to City Manager Jim O'Reilly, the new millage rate — about a $53 increase for a home assessed at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption — will increase city revenue by $110,843 in 2012 and increase funds for its waterfront district by $3,673.

The utility rate increase will add $437,330 to its coffers.

The increases will add $121,338 to the city's $4.6 million reserves, O'Reilly said.

Without the measures, the city would have had to take money out of its reserves to balance the budget.

The second and final vote on the budget is scheduled for Sept. 21.

What they're saying

"Don't consider outsourcing the dispatchers. How about if we outsource all of you (council) and be annexed to St. Petersburg." After applause died down, he added, "That's not what I want; I just want to keep the Police Department, dispatchers and Fire Department."

Don Black, a resident of Town Shores

"They get calls for all sorts of ridiculous things at Town Shores. We have a lot of people 80 to 90 years old. One lady called the police 15 times because she hears music."

Rosemarie Black, a resident of Town Shores

"My home was broken into, and the police came right away. My mom lives in St. Pete. She calls, and they never come."

Simone Frohne, owner of La Cote Basque restaurant

"Putting this off is kicking the can down the street."

Al Davis, 45th Street S

"If we decide to outsource, the services to our city will be decreased. If I call 893-1030, the person who answers will know where I am. I urge you not to do it."

Johnny Boykins, Clinton Street S

"I'm a crossing guard. I call 893-1030 (local police number) to get our dispatch instead of 911 (Sheriff's Office), which takes an hour."

Brenda Boykins, 51st Street S

"I was still talking to the dispatcher when the police caught them at the end of the alley."

Rudy Leopold, 26th Avenue S, referring to a call he made about kids and stolen bikes

"We will need the $300,000 we save. We cannot afford to do it any longer. In three years, we will be pushing a million dollars."

Bob Newcomb, Fremont Street

"We have 600 signatures on petitions to keep the dispatchers. We don't want to lose our jobs. We like our jobs. I've been here many years and want to be here many more."

Frank Wheelehan, Gulfport police dispatcher

Gulfport dispatch may be over and out 09/10/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 9, 2011 5:07pm]
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