St. Pete Beach to vote on dissolving police force

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St. Pete Beach residents will vote Tuesday whether to allow the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office to take over the duties of the city’s 27-member police force.

Residents of the small, tourist haven have mixed emotions about the decision, but proponents of the switch believe dwindling finances leave little choice.

Officials have said it costs more than $4 million a year to run the agency, and the change would save about $2 million annually after years of budget cuts and declining revenue for the town of about 10,000.

“It’s a business model that needs changes, a 50-year-old business model,” Mayor Steve McFarlin said. “What is required for us to have our own forcing is not sustainable moneywise.”

The switch was recently endorsed by the St. Pete Beach Fraternal Order of Police, and officers have said the move would be beneficial for the community.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has said that all St. Pete Beach police employees would get positions with his office.

McFarlin, however, understands why some are hesitant to make the change. The police force, which began in 1957, has a strong connection with the community.

Police headquarters, on 76th Avenue off the Corey Causeway, is easily accessible for residents. The move will mean decisions for the island will be done at the sheriff’s office building on Ulmerton Road in Largo.

“It really always just feels like they’re here and watching – for anything, you know,” Pass-A-Grille resident Janet Ford said of St. Pete Beach officers. “We love our police officers here in St. Pete Beach. We want to keep them close to us and protecting us.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.