Freedman: City shouldn't pay for long commutes

07/17/08 Mitch E. Perry
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The Tampa City Council today authorized spending an extra $800,000 for fuel for the Tampa Police Department. With record high gas prices, the request appears to be the part of doing business.

But the Council did not discuss the idea of having officers who live as far away as Manatee County, pay for their own gas once they leave Hillsborough County and park their police cars at home.

As reported earlier this week by the St. Petersburg Times, Tampa’s policy on this issue is much more liberal than many other municipalities. For examples, St. Petersburg police officers and Pasco County deputies cannot take their cars past the county line. Hillsborough and Pinellas sherriff’s deputies can drive as far as they want home, but must pay for their gas once they leave those counties.

But Tampa refuses to do anything about that, and no City Council member even dared to bring up the issue.

Two decades ago, when the city was in a similar fiscally challenging time, former Mayor Sandy Freedman ended the practice of allowing Tampa officers to drive their squad cars home – saving $2 million dollars in the process. But it was politically damaging to the former mayor. Nevertheless, she says in these tough times, the mayor and City Council are being irresponsible in not looking at their current policy.

Freedman stresses however, that when she made the decision, she said it would help raise policemen’s salaries, and give them more manpower, which she says is exactly what happened. She also said she was able to ultimately hire around 100 more police officers for the department.

Tampa’s current Mayor, Pam Iorio, said that was a particularly low time for the police.

Freedman does not disagree with that assessment.And she says the police union is a powerful force in Tampa politics.

Freedman says with gasoline prices at an all-time high, cities and counties across the country are revisiting their policies when it comes to compensating employees for their fuel costs.

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