Pinellas sheriff may cut 100 jobs

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats is cutting his crime prevention team, trimming operations at the jail and eliminating a slew of special units in an attempt to reach a target of $30 million in budget cuts.

Roughly 100 jobs have been cut or stand to be this summer. Chief Deputy Robert Gualtieri also confirmed that buyouts offers are going out, although he wouldn't provide details Tuesday.

The 2,800-member agency is cutting vacant jobs and taking advantage of retirements to shift workers and avoid layoffs, Gualtieri said. The Sheriff's Office is targeting buyout offers to people who have already signed up to retire within a few years.

Gualtieri said he couldn't identify how much money would be saved because many of the changes are still in the works. The sheriff's proposed budget is due May 1 to the County Commission. It seeks $60 million countywide in cuts for 2011, half of which would come from the sheriff's budget.

"There's no way for him to get to $30 million without these kinds of cuts," said County Commissioner Ken Welch, who has sought a tax rate increase to ease the pain of cuts. He has been unable to win support from other commissioners.

In fact, Gualtieri said, the agency won't reach $30 million, however deep reductions go.

The Fraternal Order of Police union, which represents sergeants, lieutenants and deputies, has heard few details yet, though is generally supportive of buyouts, said president Rachel Hughes, who retired with a buyout last year.

"We are worried about layoffs," she said, noting the anxiety that was caused by dozens of layoffs two years ago.

The largest cut would come from a new patrol staffing system. It would eliminate the cost of 40 positions — 22 deputies, nine corporals and nine sergeants, Gualtieri said. The new system requires fewer shifts because deputies sacrifice some scheduling flexibility.

Jail Annex No. 2 was shut last week, eliminating 31 positions. Roughly 180 inmates were shifted to other parts of the complex, many sleeping on floor mats.

Cuts also involve smaller programs that some residents rely upon, such as eliminating the five-member crime prevention unit. It works with neighborhoods on crime watch programs and educates residents on how to avoid being victims. Claudette Otto, president of Crystal Beach Community Association, recently called the unit a great help.

"Fortunately some of this work will be carried on by our community officers, but I wonder if those positions might not be deleted soon too," she said in an e-mail to the county.

In fact, Coats plans to eliminate one such officer.

Meanwhile, environmentalists were worrying about County Administrator Bob LaSala's proposal to break up the county's environmental management division, which oversees 12,000 acres of preserves. Now they have another worry: Coats has decided to cut the environmental lands enforcement unit from five members to two deputies, and combine it with a smaller marine unit. Total savings: $558,000, according to a memo to LaSala.

Fearful of land going to seed, groups supporting Brooker Creek and Weedon Island have noted agreements between the county and state that require the county properly care and operate the preserves. County lawyers are reviewing those agreements for their affects on any budget cuts.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8779.

Pinellas sheriff may cut 100 jobs 03/30/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 12:28am]

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