In the topic of outsourcing Gulfport city services, arguments were addressed. Votes were cast September 21; city leaders approved a balanced budget for 2012. Mowing services for Gulfport city parks will stay with the city, and police dispatch will go elsewhere.
In spite of everything said, one question remains. Who will take over police dispatch duties for Gulfport?
For those following the debate over outsourcing dispatch services, it may seem that a there has already been a decision. All talk was about the Pinellas County Sheriff Office. Of the Gulfport residents who addressed the board over the topic of outsourcing, few—if any—discussed options other than the PCSO.
PCSO Deputy Chief Bob Gualtieri addressed the Gulfport City Council on September 20, sketching out the advantages of using his office for providing communication services. Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats followed Gualtieri's visit with a formal letter to Gulfport Police Chief Robert Vincent. The letter outlined a way to handle dispatch duties, with figures for pricing and start-up costs.
The PCSO proposal could result in a savings of:
- $147,677 in fiscal 2012
- $305,226 in fiscal 2013
Dispatch services from the county would cost $115,000 the first year and $85,000 the second year.
For the most part, the deal appears to be—borrowing a phrase from sports—a "lock."
However, now that the dust is settling from the contentious budget debate, there may be one more player in Gulfport's outsourcing story. Chief Vincent is also entertaining another approach. It may not exist yet in the form of a letter, as is the PCSO bid, but there are ongoing discussions with the St. Petersburg Police Department.
"We have a proposal from St. Pete as well," Vincent said. "We should have a comparison done within a week."
There are a few advantages of using the St. Petersburg Police Department, according to Vincent. One is proximity. Gulfport borders directly with St. Petersburg, so there is closeness in jurisdictions.
"We work with them a lot more than the sheriff," Vincent said. "It would be much more beneficial."
That accessibility could also address the concerns of some of the opponents of outsourcing, whose opinion is that Pinellas County dispatchers would not have the "feel" for Gulfport neighborhoods. Bordering neighborhoods such as Child's Park and 49th Street allow the two cities common geography.
Another advantage given to St. Petersburg would be in radio channels devoted to police calls. Vincent said that the PCSO system integrates calls from Gulfport into existing monitoring channels.
On the other hand, Vincent's talks with St. Petersburg Police may provide Gulfport a second option—having a police channel dedicated exclusively to Gulfport. With that alternative, there would be different staff assigned to Gulfport's own police channel.
Experience is the biggest advantage the PCSO has over the SPPD. The Sherriff's office has been providing communication services for more than half of Pinellas County since the 1970's.
"The sheriff's contracts to deal with dispatches," Vincent said, "They have been around for 40 years."
Now the challenge for Vincent is to determine which agency is the best for Gulfport in the end. Both proposals have their merits, and there are differences that make side-by-side analysis difficult. The goal is to have a decision by the end of September and a commitment submitted to the city council for approval by mid-October.
"You can't really do an apple-to-apple comparison," Vincent said. "We will have to draw it down."
"Cost will be one of the factors," he added. "It will be a thoughtful decision."
As for the controversy over the Gulfport police dispatch, Vincent tried to keep his feelings out of the debate. Since there is now an option to outsource, Vincent can freely share his feelings.
"There is the potential end of long working relationships," Vincent said. "They were here when I got here. It is kind of sad, losing them."
"I think we will see a lot of advantages operationally," he added. "It will be a good change."
Vincent was adamant about the suggestion that outsourcing would lead to the end of an independent Gulfport Police Department.
"Those rumors are completely unfounded," he said.
St. Petersburg has been playing any proposed agreement close to the chest.
"There are no hard plans at this time," said St. Petersburg Police Public Information Officer Mike Puetz.
No matter which department gets the nod from Gulfport; the city council must vote on an agreement. Vincent said that there would be a contract for consideration by October. The current schedule for regular meetings of the Gulfport City Council is on October 4 and 18 at 7 p.m.
All city council meetings are held at Gulfport City Hall, at 2401 53rd Street South.