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Gulfport to consider letting Pinellas Sheriff's Office dispatch calls

Projected dispatcher savings

Employee Salary Other misc.* Total cost
Dispatcher $49,377 $26,619 $75,996
Dispatcher $36,163 $23,467 $59,630
Dispatcher $49,377 $26,619 $75,996
Dispatcher $46,161 $25,852 $72,013
Network admin. $52,938 $18,664** $71,602
Total salary and benefits $355,237
Sheriff's proposed cost Year 1 $115,000
Total projected savings Year 1*** $245,236
Sheriff's proposed cost Year 2 $85,000
Total projected savings Year 2 and beyond $305,236

Source: Pinellas County Sheriff's Office

* Includes overtime; shift differential; pension; health, life, disability insurance; workers' compensation; shoe allowance; and uniform cleaning.

** Does not get overtime, shift differential, shoe allowance or uniform cleaning.

*** With Jan. 1 implementation date.

GULFPORT — The proposed operating budget — a stack of papers as thick as two phone books — is on the table.

Its numbers have been pulled and stretched, put under a microscope and studied many times since it was unveiled in April. But time's up. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1, and the budget must be passed by then.

City Manager Jim O'Reilly and his right-hand numbers man, Dan Carpenter, director of administrative services, will take their plan for its first reading at a special City Council meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday.

After four straight years of spending more than it takes in, the city is faced with a budget shortfall of $622,359 next year unless it makes the changes recommended by O'Reilly and Carpenter.

They are proposing ways to balance the $10.2 million operating budget, but budget-cutting is never popular. The most contentious issues involve these proposals:

• Eliminate in-house police dispatchers and contract with the Sheriff's Office. The county already dispatches 911 and fire calls.

• Cut four parks employees.

• Raise the property tax rate from about $3.47 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property to $4. That would be about a $53 increase for a home assessed at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

• Increase water and sewer rates 10 percent.

O'Reilly and Carpenter also addressed some of the persistent budget controversies swirling around community:

• Some say if the city didn't spend so much money funding festivals and special events, it could keep the dispatchers.

People mistakenly think there is just one pot of money that pays all the city's expenses, Carpenter said.

"Ninety percent of those events are paid with Waterfront Redevelopment (tax-increment financing) funds. … We couldn't use it to pay operating expenses."

That money is to be used only to conserve, rehabilitate and revitalize the city's 84-acre waterfront area, south of 21st Avenue S between 54th and 58th streets.

The Waterfront District Redevelopment Plan was adopted in 1993 and, through fiscal year 2010, has raised about $1 million for that district.

• Some argue the city wouldn't have to make any cuts if it would use reserve funds.

Although the city's $4.6 million reserve seems like a lot, it is much less than the $7.2 million the city had in 2007, a time of relative economic prosperity.

O'Reilly said the city hasn't put any money in its reserves in the past 10 years, and he doesn't see that changing any time soon.

It's a finite amount of money that isn't getting replenished.

"How long are you going to pay your mortgage out of your savings account?" Carpenter asked.

• Those in favor of keeping the city's dispatchers say the Sheriff's Office won't provide the same level of service.

Residents don't want to give up having 24-hour police dispatchers in their community, but as with all services, there is a price tag attached. After the first year's expenses of transitioning the department to the county, the city is expected to save $305,000 a year.

Police Chief Robert Vincent said he has fewer worries about loss of service since he toured the sheriff's dispatch facilities last week, but he is still concerned about a few things.

He said the city will lose its holding facility because the dispatchers will not be there to monitor its video surveillance. About 130 people a year spend some time in the holding facility, he said.

"We'll have to keep them in the back of a police car until we can take them to jail."

He's also concerned that there won't be anyone to let people in the building at night.

"If people are being chased or threatened, we can let them in the building and lock the door."

He's perhaps most concerned about turning quality control over to someone else.

"If someone says, 'I called and made a complaint, but no one showed up,' I can look up the call and call in the dispatcher to see what went wrong. Now, I'll have to call the sheriff and make complaints just like any other citizen," Vincent said.

In a related argument, some fear that replacing the dispatchers is a step toward eliminating the Police Department and hiring the Sheriff's Office.

"This is in no way an attempt to displace the Gulfport Police Department," O'Reilly said. "City Council has gone on record saying they value keeping their Police Department."

Gulfport to consider letting Pinellas Sheriff's Office dispatch calls 09/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 6:17pm]
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