Consolidation? Not Right Now...
It's just not the right time. That was the message from Alachua County's state lawmakers today about a study of consolidating the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.
The bill and possible merger have brought out a lot of strong emotions and the delegation decided to drop the bill.
Those in favor of the bill say it was only to study consolidation and to take a closer look at combining resources in a tough economy, not necessarily to implement a merger. But most of the people who spoke today at a public meeting said it was a prejudiced bill that would inevitably diminish the rights of Gainesville's citizens.
Mayor Craig Lowe said, "The people of Gainesville should not be forced to raise their hard earned dollars to wage a campaign against an external threat to take away the most fundamental function of government."
Most who spoke today at the Thomas Center were against unification and a study they say is designed to force consolidation.
Candidate for City Commission Susan Bottcher said, "It says the commission shall submit a proposed law enforcement unification plan..you've already pre-determined the outcome. This needs to be re-written."
The bill proposed forming a commission of 30 community members to research the pros and cons of a merger and then to possibly present a unification plan to voters in 2012. But a funding source for the study was not determined.
City Commissioner Thomas Hawkins said, "Do not create a committee without funding it's work or you're going to get what you pay for."
After hearing dozens of comments on the issue, with concerns ranging from the composition of the commission to the resources required, State Senator Steve Oelrich made a motion to withdraw the bill.
Oelrich said, "The final analysis there is so much controversy about this particular issue that we're going to let things remain as they are." He said he believes that consolidation would save millions, but it wont be possible until the community is open to it. Oelrich said, "It should be a rallying point rather than a point of division or animosity."
The legislative delegation voted unanimously to kill the bill, much to the relief of those who've been fighting it. Lowe said, "Well I'm grateful to the legislative delegation for their hearing the citizens and being responsive to the citizens concerns." But the idea of a study might be sticking around. State Representative Elizabeth Porter said, "I don't agree that a study is a bad idea because I think more education is always better."
Although this bill initiated by local police union Police Benevolent Association failed, residents could start a petition to put it on the ballot in the future or a re-draft of the bill could continue the discussion of consolidation.
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