CLEARWATER — If Pinellas County's sheriff took over law enforcement in Clearwater, he would eliminate 54 jobs to save money, according to a city analysis.
That's about one of every eight employees in the Clearwater Police Department.
This is how the sheriff is proposing to save the city's taxpayers $10.8 million a year if Clearwater disbands its police force and contracts with the Sheriff's Office instead.
Sheriff Jim Coats pledges to keep the same number of patrol officers and detectives on duty in Clearwater. He's talking about hiring the same ones. So the bulk of the job cuts in the 400-employee Police Department would come from three areas: police supervisors, communications operators and office workers.
Coats would cut jobs he says are duplicated at the Sheriff's Office. Here's how that would play out:
Supervisors: Clearwater currently has 36 sergeants, eight lieutenants, three captains and a police chief to manage the city's nearly 200 officers and detectives. The sheriff would replace them with about 21 sergeants, six lieutenants and a captain.
Communications: Clearwater employs 44 people in its police communications center to take emergency calls and dispatch officers. That's 36 operators, seven supervisors and a manager.
In contrast, Coats would merge this operation into the sheriff's communications center. He estimates the Sheriff's Office would need 20 more operators — not 44 — to handle the extra call volume.
Support staff: Various administrative workers, such as some accountants and records clerks, would be laid off.
Clearwater City Council members will take up this issue at their work session Monday. They'll hear a report from police Chief Tony Holloway, who has been studying the sheriff's proposal.
"I'll be releasing my findings Monday, and it will be up to the council," said Holloway, whose position would be eliminated by the sheriff's proposal.
Further discussion is expected at the council's public meeting May 20.
Judging from e-mails that council members have been receiving, public opinion in Clearwater is firmly against getting rid of the Police Department.
However, Clearwater is also facing a $7.6 million budget shortfall, and its $37 million police force is the biggest chunk of the city's budget.
The sheriff has been answering numerous questions from Clearwater officials, and his answers are clearing up a few things about how a transition to the Sheriff's Office would work.
For one thing, Coats says that sheriff's deputies assigned to work in Clearwater would work only in Clearwater and would not rotate to other assignments around the county.
"All deputies working in our contract cities are assigned there on a permanent basis," Coats wrote to Clearwater officials.
Also, Coats says he would hire Clearwater officers, and their salaries would be within the pay range for Pinellas sheriff's deputies — $41,000 to $67,000. Currently, Clearwater officers are paid $43,000 to $65,000.
"The specific pay rates will have to be determined once we know which, and how many current Clearwater officers will seek employment with PSCO," the sheriff wrote.
Jon Walser, a Clearwater patrol officer and president of the local Fraternal Order of Police, says officers are still worried about losing their jobs.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4160.