Anna Maria commissioner calls for police consolidation talks

Resurrecting an idea that has been discussed many times over the years by various officials, Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry called for a discussion on consolidating law enforcement services with Holmes Beach and Bradenton Beach.

Aubry made his suggestion after learning the proposed Manatee County Sheriff’s Office contract for 2013-14 is $615,000.

But Mayor SueLynn said this is about $85,000 less than she expected. She said the decrease is due to younger officers serving in Anna Maria with lower pay and benefits than the deputies previously assigned to Anna Maria.

Aubry, however, remained concerned about spending money.

“We sit here next to Holmes Beach with police boats, cars and an enormous police force. Why can’t this city be covered by a consolidated police force?” he asked.

He said this is a new age in Anna Maria and it’s time to consider ways to save money.

“Everyone resists consolidation, but I propose talking about it,” Aubry said.

Commission Chair Chuck Webb and Commissioner Doug Copeland agreed and asked Mayor SueLynn to talk with Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti.

SueLynn said she spoke with Monti several months ago about the issue. At that time, she said, Monti wanted to wait and see how the new Holmes Beach police chief was handling the job.

“He did not want to move forward at that time,” she said, although she offered to again contact Monti and try to renew the discussion.

The mayor added that from private conversations with commissioners in both cities, she knows there would be opposition to a merger.

Former Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger opposed a police merger, maintaining there was no benefit to Holmes Beach taxpayers.

SueLynn said she would prefer consolidating services such as road maintenance and dredging. She added Monti appeared reluctant because each city has a different set of codes to enforce.

“But it’s up to the commission,” she said.

“It’s nuts to spend this much money,” Aubry said.

But SueLynn said $615,000 for law enforcement is considerably less than what Holmes Beach pays for police service, and also less than Bradenton Beach pays. Bradenton Beach has about 400 fewer people than Anna Maria, she said, and spends about $1 million annually — slightly more than $950,000 — for its police department.

The Holmes Beach police budget includes the department’s 24-hour dispatch service, which the sheriff’s office provides for Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach.

Webb said past efforts to consolidate police services found no cost savings for Anna Maria, but he agreed the mayor should at least discuss the issue with others.

“Explore this and find out about cost savings,” Webb said to the mayor.

Commissioner Nancy Yetter was not opposed to SueLynn discussing the issue with Monti, but said it’s nice to have the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies in Anna Maria.

She praised Sgt. Paul Davis and other deputies for handling the July 4 holiday crowds.

“For me, I realize money is important. We can look into this, but look at the service we get,” Yetter said. She questioned if a consolidated police force would provide better service than MCSO deputies.

SueLynn, however, agreed to call Monti and report any progress at the July 25 commission meeting.

Commissioners will vote on the new MCSO contract July 25.

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