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One idea to save money: consolidation

BRADENTON — State Sen. Mike Bennett on Friday suggested that government money woes could be lessened with more budget cuts and consolidation of public services, such as Manatee’s fire districts, and the Bradenton Police Department and Manatee County Sheriff’s Office.

“We should be looking at ways to help the counties and the cities consolidate services,” the Bradenton Republican told those attending a breakfast preview of the Florida legislative session hosted by the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

“Do we really need nine fire districts in Manatee County?” he asked. “Do you really, truly need to have — and (Bradenton) Mayor (Wayne) Poston may not like this — but do you really need to have a city police force, when we could combine service forces with the county and have one police force?”

Chief Dan Cacchiotti, of the Myakka City Fire District, said later, “I guess off the top of my head ... I’ll have to give it some thought.”

Poston said consolidations often fail to deliver savings.

“It generally costs more. I think that Sen. Bennett ought to spend his time on what the state ought to do, not what the cities and the counties should do,” Poston said.

Bennett also discussed his spending philosophy.

“There are some of us who don’t believe we necessarily have a revenue problem,” said Bennett, who chairs the local legislative delegation. “We have a serious spending problem.”

He contended that a look at almost any area of government would reveal spending could be cut further “without going into the meat.”

During Bennett’s first years in public office, Florida had more money than it could spend, but state officials “found ways to do it,” he told the group gathered at the Bradenton Country Club.

Now, with state coffers running dry due to the effects of the recession and housing bust, it’s a different story.

“This is an opportunity to get us back to the basics,” he said.

Bennett also predicted that legislation addressing oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico would not come up for consideration this year.

“I do not believe it is going to come up this year,” Bennett said. “The president of the Senate has basically said this is too big of an issue to bring to the floor without having some serious debate.

“I know it’s a big issue in the (Florida) House and something they want to do, but I think we owe you as many answers as we can possibly get.”

State Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, D-Sarasota, argued that “a lot of what we need is smart government, not just a matter of more or less, but smarter.”

Over the past 12 to 15 years, “we’ve incrementally messed up education in all kinds of ways,” he said, noting that one thing the state has done well — community colleges — is now morphing into something different “and it’s not clear what they are or will be.”

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.