Next week, Treasure Island city commissioners may discuss a petition submitted by 143 residents. It requests the city find out how much it would cost to replace Treasure Island's police department with contract law enforcement provided by the Pinellas Sheriff's Office.
"All we want to do is get the numbers," petitioner Mitchell Shenkman said. "If we're not informed, we can't find out if we're going to save money."
The issue is especially sensitive in Treasure Island, as commissioner Tim Ramsberger discovered.
"I had brought it up last year and nobody else was in favor of it," Ramsberger recalled. "It's hard for the city of Treasure Island to continue to be a full-service government in these economic times when we're looking at the taxpayers to foot the bill."
Other elected leaders probably remember the last time this issue came up. In a 2005 referendum, 82 percent of the voters changed the city charter, requiring future referendums before either the police or fire departments can be abolished.
Later that same year, former Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats presented a proposal that would save Treasure Island $13 to $15 million over a ten-year period.
Town leaders rejected that proposal in 2005. However, last year, the town did contract with the Sheriff's Office for dispatch services.
The island community faces a number of economic challenges. Taxable property values, and therefore revenues, may be eroded by the flood insurance crisis, after being hit hard by the Great Recession.
With maintenance costs piling up, City Hall is already studying the possibility of charging a toll for the bridge that connects the island to the mainland.
"My biggest concern is that we raised our taxes last year," Ramsberger said. "I don't want to raise taxes again."
And then there are the reports from the south: St. Pete Beach replaced its police department with a sheriff's contract, saving roughly $1 million a year. The mayor of that town is a vocal promoter of consolidation of public services.
Shenkman agrees the petition offers Treasure Island commissioners political cover.
"Well, they won't act on their own," Shenkman said. "Unless they hear from the community, they're not going to get these numbers."
Whether the petition offers enough political cover, or motivation, may become more clear at a city commission workshop next week.
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