BRADENTON - It's about public safety, the sheriff said.
Property appraiser and elections chief detail their budget cuts
On Thursday, Property Appraiser Charles Hackney and Supervisor of Elections Robert Sweat gave brief presentations on their planned reductions.
The latest round of budget cuts at the Manatee County Sheriff's Office will not only cut into personnel in road patrol and at the jail, sworn and civilian, it will set back the department's efforts to modernize and ultimately cost more money in the long run, Sheriff W. Brad Steube said Thursday at a County Commission budget workshop.
"We have made great strides in managing criminal activity in the face of a declining economic environment," he said. "One reason has been our focus on implementing programs with a focus on technological improvements that will increase our efficiency and reduce resource requirements. This budget reduction will put many of these programs on hold."
DNA testing has led to good results and has solved crimes, Steube said. "Reduced funding puts this valuable took at risk, which means fewer cases being closed," he said.
Steube and department Comptroller Tom Salisbury said a second year without pay raises may even lead some deputies to take jobs with other, better-paying police agencies, and may turn the Sheriff's Office into a training ground for other departments while it scrambles to deal with turnover.
The current budget is $97 million, Salisbury said, and the proposed $92.5 million is a combination of $88.1 million in tax revenue and nearly $4.3 million in grants. The cut of a little more than $4.5 million or 5 percent means losing six certified positions, six civilian positions, a temporary staffer and overtime at the county jail. Personnel cutbacks account for more than $1.4 million of the reductions.
The department will also cut operating expenses by more than $1.26 million, which means less for communications, computer replacements, jail food, gasoline and more.
In the capital budget, which is to be cut more than $1.8 million, 33 new cars will not be bought, and there will be no replacement of radios or in-car computers.
With recent gang activity, drive-by shootings, home invasions and 12 homicides so far this year, three more than all of last year, the department is dealing with crime in a wider area, Steube said, but without more personnel.
"Although we've arrested and incarcerated nearly 50 gang members, criminal activity associated with the gangs continues," Steube said.
He noted that the technology purchases being put off could help the department save money. For example, a system to let deputies enter crime reports into computers and then automatically upload them via the cell phone network would mean that they would not have to drive their cars to a central location and hand the paperwork to their sergeant, he said. The gas burned, and the wear and tear on cars, add up to higher costs, and some cars have significant mileage on their odometers.
Salisbury said 23 percent of the department's cars have more than 80,000 miles on the odometer, and 24 percent have more than 60,000 miles, so the department is adding $100,000 to its maintenance budget to keep those high-mileage cars going.
Steube described the situation at the county jail, where 211 deputies, six fewer than in 1995, oversee 1,168 inmates. "I'm concerned, and I hope you're concerned," he told the commissioners.
His department has compensated for staff shortages by using overtime, but that is being cut out, he said. And while cutting $40,000 from the jail food budget is a problem, he said that he is down to one full-time deputy who is screening inmates to verify their citizenship, though 10 were trained for the job. Still, that one deputy identified 168 non-citizens in the jail and action was taken up to and sometimes including deportation. The other nine do the work in four-hour blocks of overtime, he said.
"Can you imagine what those numbers would be if those other deputies were doing that full-time?" Steube asked.
Another thing to bear in mind about the jail, Steube said, is that in 1995 the inmate population was different from today. Now, he has to handle 20 people being held on homicide charges as well as the mentally ill and numerous gang members whose gang affiliations have to be tracked to keep them apart.
With all the cutbacks and the growth in crime, the department will have to be "more reactive to crime, rather than being proactive," he said.
Commissioners expressed their concerns about the cuts and the effect on public safety, and wondered if grants might be available from the federal government.
Commissioner Ron Getman noted that the community demands tax cuts, not realizing that it's hurting the sheriff's office.
"It's our problem," said Commissioner Larry Bustle. "It's not the sheriff's problem. It's Manatee County's problem."
Among the solutions mentioned were a special sales tax, but County Administrator Ed Hunzeker explained that such a tax would require years of effort to get through the state Legislature.
Bustle noted that if it were explained correctly to the public, they might accept a millage increase for public safety.
Maybe the thing to do is cut recreation, libraries and other public services to save the sheriff's office, Getman said.
And if there are more cuts next year, the situation in the department will get even worse, he said. "We still have people who think they're overtaxed," Getman said.
"There has to be a safety valve somewhere," Bustle said. "We can't allow things to get to the point where at the jail some of your guys get overwhelmed by inmates.
"This county has to step up to it and solve the problem before we get to the safety valve point."
Ultimately, Steube said, "We all want to have a safe community to live in."
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