CLEARWATER — Sheriff Jim Coats recently said he could save Clearwater $8.2 million a year by taking over law enforcement in the city.
Now he has an update.
Make that $10.8 million, he says. That's how much he says Clearwater would save next year if it disbands its Police Department and contracts with the Sheriff's Office instead.
Meanwhile, Clearwater officials, who are facing a $7.6 million budget shortfall next year because of declining property values, have a lot of questions about the sheriff's offer. They're asking for more details before the City Council tackles the issue.
This new wrinkle raises the stakes on what was already shaping up to be a big decision.
At the city's request, the sheriff has given Clearwater a breakdown of what it would cost for his agency to replace the Police Department, keeping the same number of patrol officers and detectives on duty in the city.
Coats previously said this would cost about $29.2 million a year compared to the Clearwater Police Department's $37.4 million budget. But now he says it would only cost $26.6 million.
Why the cheaper rate?
The sheriff says his earlier offer was based on conservative estimates of his expenses, and that his updated proposal uses new data for his employees' health insurance and pension costs.
To save the city money, Coats would eliminate some police supervisors and other staffers whose jobs he says are duplicated at the Sheriff's Office.
However, Clearwater police officials have questions about this scenario.
Police Chief Tony Holloway, who took over the department in February, sent the sheriff a number of questions. They include things like:
• Would the Clearwater officers and detectives be assigned solely to work cases in Clearwater, or would they be used to supplement the sheriff's work force throughout the county?
• How much would the sheriff charge for extra officers for special events like Jazz Holiday, Ironman and Turkey Trot?
• How would the sheriff handle the cost of maintaining police headquarters as well as insurance, computers and phones, among other expenses?
Once they know more, Clearwater staffers plan to bring this issue to the City Council at its May 17 work session and its May 20 public meeting.
However, city officials have started to get e-mails and phone calls from Clearwater residents asking them to keep the Police Department.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4160.