Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

In Sarasota, Talk of Phasing out Police Force

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

In Sarasota, Talk of Phasing out Police Force

Article excerpt

SARASOTAIf there is new optimism for economic recovery it has yet to resonate with city leaders, who are working to sell the public a bleak new message: Sarasota's budget woes have finally "unraveled."With services already cut to the bone, commissioners hope to forgo the usual quibbling over minor cuts for 2013 and instead are focused on potentially radical surgery, such as phasing out the city's police force completely."If we don't do this, we'll go under," said Commissioner Shannon Snyder, who says he fears the city could go bankrupt within the decade."We can't afford it."Sarasota, like most cities throughout Florida, has substantially run out of wiggle room after five straight years of plummeting tax revenues and skyrocketing costs. Mounting debt and $329 million in unfunded obligations to retirees have put extra pressure on Sarasota's leaders to either find new ways to fund the government or trim it.Snyder proposes to gradually consolidate the Sarasota Police Department with the county Sheriff's Office, which would take a significant bite out of city costs. More than half of the $58 million spent out of the city's general fund this year goes toward police.The idea could come as a hard sell in the city that bills itself as a place "where urban amenities meet small-town living" and where powerful neighborhood groups have lobbied for a greater police presence.It also comes only months after union leaders quashed an overhaul of police pensions and less than two years since the construction of a new $46 million police headquarters.Besides setting the stage for potentially severe cuts to come, commissioners' interest in contracting with the county Sheriff's Office for public safety raises a deeper question.Should the City of Sarasota even exist?"At some point, people will say, what is this worth?" Snyder said.Three commissioners have pledged to push this year to discuss making Sarasota a "government lite" to counter a widening funding gap fueled by the erosion of property values amid the Great Recession.Sarasota, which already contracts with the county for firefighters, would not be the first city to consolidate its police force with a county's. …

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