St. Pete Beach — The St. Pete Beach Police Department may become a thing of the past, if voters have their say.
Tuesday evening, the St. Pete Beach City Commission voted unanimously to allow residents to make a key change to the city charter. Currently, Section 4.06 of the charter dictates that police services can only be performed by city employees.
On the Nov. 6 ballot, residents of St. Pete Beach will have an opportunity to change the law by repealing Section 4.06. If the new language is adopted, the city will be given the authority to contract with the Pinellas County Sherriff's Office, and cut the city police force. This move could potentially save the city more than $1 million and possibly prevent tax increases.
The November ballot measure will be worded as such:
- Charter Section 4.06 requires the St. Pete Beach Police Department to be established as a Charter Department and prohibits transfer of law enforcement activity by contract or any other process to any department or employee not administered by the City Manager. Repeal of this Section will allow the City to transfer law enforcement activity to an outside agency by contract or other process. Shall Charter Section 4.06 be repealed?
At the public comments of Tuesday’s meeting, most speakers wanted to keep the police intact. Resident Marylou Manning voiced concerns that the choice will not be clearly understood by voters.
“The one thing that you would need to explain to people that want their police force is that it would raise their taxes,” Manning said. “I want to make sure that when people vote, they know what they are voting on.”
District 4 Commissioner Beverly Garnett assured the audience that the ballot intiiative was necessary to put an end to the yearly cycle of proposed budget cuts.
“We are going get you the information you need to make a decision,” Garnett said. “At the end of the day, when we get this vote in November, no matter which way this goes, if we keep our police department, (St. Pete Beach Police) Chief Romine and all his men and women will feel much better, because next year they will not be back on the chopping block again. It will have been discussed, vetted, a decision been made and we move on.”
“We need to end this discussion,” Garnett added. “Every year it keeps coming up. Let’s put it to bed and move on.”
Jim Parent, District 2 Commissioner, said the choice to keep the police will be in the hands of voters, and that the commission has “no vested interest either way.” As it stands right now, the city has budgeted on the assumption they will be retaining the police force in 2013. Having the PCSO take over policing will mean savings in future costs.
“This exercise is about the budget,” Parent said. “There is an opportunity to save money. We want to be able to fiscally serve the residents.”
“That does mean making sure we have enough revenue to cover expenses or reduce expenses,” Parent added. “Its two sides of the same coin. Let the residents decide, we want to put it on the ballot as a referendum. If the electorate says to keep our police department, then so be it. We will make it happen.”
“It’s that easy,” Parent said.
If approved, any change in St. Pete Beach police services will not go into effect until at least 2013. For more information, contact the City Commission at City Hall, located at 155 Corey Ave., St. Pete Beach. They can be reached at (727) 363-9220, or at stpetebeach.org.