The creation of the Ponte Vedra Beach Municipal Service District’s own police department and whether it is a possibility was discussed during the most recent MSD meeting May 9.
Board treasurer Gary Jurenovich led the talk by presenting info he compiled that suggests a police department is feasible and laid out his plan which he believes the MSD should seriously consider.
“I believe the MSD is a premier community, and I’m just trying to keep it premier,” Jurenovich said.
Having its own police department is not a new concept for the MSD, which had one in place prior to entering into a contract with the Sheriff’s Office in 1990 to ensure deputies were on patrol and specially designated within the district 24/7.
However, within the past year the contract expired and after much back and forth between the two sides, the Sheriff’s Office chose to turn down a contract presented by the MSD to extend the previous arrangement.
Since then, the MSD has resumed having extra patrol by paying off-duty Sheriff’s Office deputies on top of the regular patrol already provided by the department as part of the county.
Jurenovich pointed out that the cost for extra patrol continues to increase with each year that passes, stating that the MSD paid $330,000 or $30 per hour in their contract with the Sheriff’s Office in 2020-2021. That amount raised to $435,000 or $40 per hour in 2021-2022 with off-duty deputy costs, and he expects the rate to rise to $55 per hour beginning this month.
The contract at $55 per hour would be $598,000, which would be a $268,000 increase in a two-year span.
According to Jurenovich, the increase in cost does not match the amount of extra patrol the MSD has been getting of late, as he stated under the former contract the MSD was receiving 208 hours of extra patrol per week and now that number is 62 hours per week.
“The MSD needs the visual of somebody driving around 24/7 like we used to have,” Jurenovich said.
To improve the current situation, Jurenovich proposed that the MSD begin the process of starting its own police department by spending an estimated $163,600 to purchase two Ford Explorer police interceptor patrol vehicles and equipping them with the proper lights, radios, graphics and radar ($100,000) and purchasing patrol equipment and cell phones for three eventual officers ($33,600).
The last thing he proposed they do during the current fiscal year is enter into an interlocal agreement with the Sheriff’s Office for frequency use ($30,000).
He used the City of St. Augustine and the City of St. Augustine Beach as examples, stating that although they have their own police department, the municipality still maintains a working relationship with the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, and that would be the case in the MSD as well.
“When you dial 9-1-1, someone is still going to show up,” Jurenovich said.
After all the purchases, Jurenovich estimates that $176,600 would be left over in the current budget to return to the taxpayers in 2022.
His plan continues into the fiscal year 2022-2023, where he proposed the MSD begin hiring a staff to operate their police department. He projected the staff would cost roughly $385,300 to pay and insure a police chief and two officers.
He urged the board to look down the road and think about what path is best for the community’s future.
“This board has always talked about accountability,” Jurenovich said. “There have been 31 different off-duty officers. We don’t have the neighborhood police presence that we need. With this plan, the chief will report to this board.”
MSD chairman Al Hollon disagreed with some of the numbers that were proposed by Jurenovich.
Jurenovich said that he would be happy to discuss any part of his plan further and it has been kept on the agenda to be discussed once again at a future meeting.
Trustee John Cellucci remarked that he is interested in hearing more and even hinted that he would like to eventually see it as a topic at a public workshop.
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