Sunday, December 17, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Police car costs need a public accounting

Imagine if St. Petersburg police Chief Chuck Harmon refused to break out the cost of overtime for his officers or how much of the personnel budget went to providing health insurance. That is essentially the posture Harmon is taking when asked how much it costs for officers to commute to and from work using police department vehicles. The department declines to keep track of how much gas is used, a dodge designed to shield the take-home car program from public accountability. Mayor Bill Foster doesn't appear interested in following up, but the City Council should demand an informed discussion on how generous this benefit should be.

Nearly 80 percent of the city's police officers have take-home cars — there are more than 450 — which can be used for commutes of up to 40 miles one way, with gas gratis. Foster, who had the support of the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association during the 2009 mayoral campaign, expanded the perk soon after taking office. Before that, take-home cars could be used only within Pinellas County.

The more generous take-home policy, plus higher fuel prices, has made a dent in the city's tight budget at a time when city staff have been denied raises and city departments are suffering deep cuts. Overall, the cost for fuel is expected to hit $2.5 million for fiscal year 2013, which ends Sept. 30. In fiscal year 2010, the department's fuel budget was $1.6 million.

It may not make sense to end the take-home benefit that officers rely upon, but it needs to be more transparent and possibly more limited. There are crime-control benefits to having a police car parked in a residential neighborhood, and it is the kind of perk that keeps officers from jumping to other agencies. But Pinellas and Hillsborough counties impose sensible limits. Sheriff's deputies must pay for mileage beyond the county lines as an incentive to live within the agency's jurisdiction.

St. Petersburg is in the absurd position of providing a more generous benefit to officers who choose to live well outside the city, where the crime deterrent effect is not enjoyed by the city's taxpayers. And Foster should keep in mind those officers can't vote in city elections.

An analysis by the Tampa Bay Times found that taxpayers are paying $685,000 in fuel costs annually for 110 officers who live outside Pinellas County, including in Pasco and Hernando counties, and $497,000 for 94 officers who live in Pinellas but outside the city. It isn't clear how much of the fuel is used for their commutes versus on-the-job patrols.

City Council member Leslie Curran and council chairman Karl Nurse say they want the department to determine the cost of the program. That is the only way to evaluate it as a city priority during coming budget talks. Foster and Harmon should welcome the public discussion.

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Editorial: Warren’s smart approach on guns, domestic violence

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren would make it safer for victims and police alike with his plan to remove firearms from defendants charged with domestic violence. These cases are toxic enough, and having guns at the ready only adds to a dang...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

Editorial: St. Petersburg council right to reject Bayfront deal

The St. Petersburg City Council made the difficult but correct decision this week to reject the proposed sale of a local nonprofit’s minority stake in Bayfront hospital. Despite months of negotiations, there were too many questions, a few suspicions ...
Published: 12/15/17
Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Editorial: Congress should fix flood insurance, children’s health insurance before Christmas

Here’s a snapshot of misplaced priorities in Washington. Last week, the Federal Communications Commission foolishly rushed to scrap net neutrality rules and allow internet service providers to treat different content differently despite overwhelming ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

Editorial: Scott’s smart changes to sexual harassment policy

With misconduct allegations rippling through all levels of government, Gov. Rick Scott has taken the prudent step of ordering uniform sexual harassment policies throughout state agencies. The executive order strengthens protections for victims, which...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

Editorial: MOSI faces a clean slate and should give everyone a piece of chalk

For three years, the only news about finances at Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry was bad news: "Struggling MOSI asks Hillsborough County for $400,000 loan," one headline read, "Audit sees MOSI finances slipping," read another, and "MOSI donor ...
Published: 12/14/17
Updated: 12/15/17
Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

Editorial: Rubio should make good his threat to oppose tax cuts without changes

For once, it would be nice to see Sen. Marco Rubio stand up as the independent leader he aspires to become. For once, the Florida Republican should hold his position rather than bow to pragmatic politics. Rubio can stick with his threat Thursday to v...
Published: 12/14/17

Another voice: A shameful anniversary

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Published: 12/13/17
Updated: 12/14/17
Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Editorial: Congress should block efforts to expand offshore drilling

Timing is everything, and Sen. Bill Nelson seized the right moment this week to call on his colleagues to pass legislation he filed earlier this year that would block the Trump administration from opening additional areas to offshore drilling. With t...
Published: 12/13/17

Another voice: Alabama picks an honorable man

THANK YOU, Alabama.In Tuesday’s special election, the state by a narrow margin chose to spare the nation the indignity of seating an accused child molester in the U.S. Senate. Though the stain of electing Republican Roy Moore would have sullied Alaba...
Published: 12/12/17
Updated: 12/13/17
Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

Editorial: Tax cuts aren’t worth harm to Tampa Bay

As congressional negotiators hammer out the details on an enormous, unnecessary tax cut, the potential negative impact on Tampa Bay and Florida is becoming clearer. The harmful consequences stretch far beyond adding more than $1.4 trillion to the fed...
Published: 12/12/17