MANATEE COUNTY — Manatee County commissioners intend to fund part of Sheriff Brad Steube’s request for 20 more deputies by using a total of $1.6 million in savings accrued by both the county and the sheriff’s office.
Property-tax revenues for the county came in about $800,000 higher than expected, and those monies will go toward funding 10 to 11 of the deputies requested.
The option, approved unanimously by the board, comes as an alternative to raising millage rates.
Commissioners plan to hold a workshop to further discuss whether fourth-quarter Florida Retirement System savings for the sheriff’s office — another $800,000 or so — will be used for capital improvements to the sheriff’s office building and judicial center.
The board late last month tentatively approved a slight millage increase — about $11 annually for a $150,000 home — that would provide the sheriff with $1.6 million in property taxes to pay for 20 more deputies. However, the board had directed Steube to do whatever he could to trim costs so a millage increase could be avoided.
“It’s not that we support a tax increase,” Commission Chairman Carol Whitmore said. “We support waiting until (the budget adoption in) September (to decide).”
Commissioners can set the millage rate lower than the proposed rate when they adopt the final budget Sept. 1, but they would not have been able to raise it at that time.
Steube and County Administrator Ed Hunzeker last week met to discuss options for the sheriff’s office and presented their conclusions to commissioners Tuesday, at which time commissioners opted to avoid a millage increase.
Hunzeker said the option approved by the board seemed to be the most “balanced approach” to the situation.
Although Steube has said he has trimmed as much as he can from his budget, several commissioners had continued to ask for reductions before agreeing to increase the millage.
“I want to work with the sheriff and keep us safe, but I believe there are areas in the budget we can cut to give him what he needs (without raising millage),” DiSabatino said.
“I just feel that the sheriff may need these funds, but he hasn’t proven his case (for a millage increase),” Hayes said. “I feel there are just areas where he needs to take a look at things. I realy hope we do an efficiency report. I won’t support (the increase) without an efficiency report.”
Steube said concerns raised by commissioners already have been considered and he has valid arguments for his proposals.
For example, although the sheriff’s office has been able to save $1 million and return it to the county for the last two years, Steube said he is not willing to budget $1 million less, as some commissioners have suggested. Those dollars, he said, pay for unexpected expenses, such as costs associated with the recent dig for a missing woman on Anna Maria Island.
“I can’t predict what unforeseen expenses I may have,” Steube said, noting he’d need to pay overtime to deputies if a hurricane hit the area. “For me, to use my savings (doesn’t seem) like a good use of money.”
Additionally, new deputies are an ongoing expense, so providing one-year funding for their employment, as proposed in some funding options, would not have solved the sheriff’s office’s longer-term financial dilemma for training and retaining deputies, Steube said.
Steube said 85% of the budget is for personnel expenses, while only 12% accounts for operational expenses, and those have been kept to a minimum by prolonging the life of patrol vehicles, walkie-talkies and other equipment, among other changes.
“I think we’ve been very good stewards of the public’s money,” Steube said. “I’m trying to look out for the rainy days.”
Steube noted Fiscal Year 2012 will be the first year the public will see any cuts made by the sheriff’s office with the elimination of five elementary school resource officers, but more visible cuts will be required if funding is not made available.
County commissioners are set to approve the budget at their Sept. 1 hearing.
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].