While Manatee County Sheriff’s Office will still need more personnel before the agency can put a second deputy in patrol cars, some additional personnel will come online this October.
In addition to the eight new deputies already funded in Manatee County’s tentative 2016-17 $571 million net budget, commissioners approved funding 13 other new positions in the sheriff’s office — four corrections deputies, six dispatchers, a public records clerk and two forensic analysts — during Tuesday’s budget meeting. They also approved seven additional positions for the county’s public safety department.
“This will be a great relief to get six more dispatchers out there,” Sheriff Brad Steube said. “It is a step in the right direction.”
But by spending $1.2 million more for public safety, which will be funded from reserves, it exacerbates the potential budget deficit coming in 2018, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker warned.
“We thought we had a $2.8 million problem in ’18,” he said. “Now we have a $4 million problem in ’18.”
With the recent police killings across the U.S., some deputies have been questioning why the agency is not putting a second deputy in patrol cars. Even before that, with the county’s continuing population growth and increased calls for service on an average day, the sheriff had requested additional personnel.
By dipping into reserves to fund the additional public safety expenditures, the commission has only patched a hole, Commissioner Betsy Benac said.
“I don’t like spending down reserves,” she said. “It just doesn’t make sense in the long run to do that. We know we have an issue coming forward. We’ve got to address that issue. We’ve got to keep our eyes focused on resolving this problem.”
The commission also voted to keep the millage rate at the same rate it has been since 2006. The county millage rate is 7.0435, which includes the .6109 mill for the unincorporated municipal services tax. An additional $2.2 million in budget items, which had been flagged by the commission for future discussion, will now be funded through revenue sources such as grants and fee revenues.
“We believe that with the passage of the sales tax, we will be able to deal with issues going forward in fiscal year ’18, ’19 and beyond,” Hunzeker said. “We don’t think the property tax increase is the way to go.”
The passage of the half-cent sales tax would be “huge” for the sheriff’s office, Steube said.
“With a half-cent sales tax, it’s everybody that comes to Manatee County,” he said.
But should voters not approve the half-cent infrastructure sales tax this November, the county commission would either have to cut spending or raise property taxes, according to Hunzeker.
“If they say no to sales tax, I believe what they are saying is ‘cut,’ ” he said. “I would show up to propose reductions to ’18 spending. I will recommend spending cuts other than employees. We would cut services.”
At the end of fiscal year 2017, the general fund portion of the budget stabilization fund, which is where the potential deficit in 2018 exists, will now have $662,355 remaining, which is a decrease from the $10.4 million projected left in the fund at the end of this fiscal year.
“We’ve got to stop this dependence of dipping into the reserve,” Hunzeker said.
The tentative maximum millage rate will be on the truth in millage statement that the property appraiser mails to every property owner, notifying them of the proposed property tax levy and public hearing dates. Commissioners will not formally adopt the millage rate until Sept. 15 when the final budget is approved.