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Sheriff proposes cutting jobs, overtime benefits

MANATEE — Sheriff Brad Steube has proposed cutting 12 jobs and overtime benefits for deputies amid a request from county officials to slash his budget next fiscal year by $4.5 million.

Steube declined to say which jobs — including seven deputy positions and five civilian positions — will be cut. But he pledged to make layoffs a last resort in hopes that the cuts will be achieved through attrition as employees retire, resign or are fired.

Cutting 12 jobs will bring the number of positions eliminated in the past year to 42, including 23 open positions that have not been filled, and seven positions eliminated last budget season, according to a proposal Steube submitted to Manatee County Administrator Ed Hunzeker last week.

The proposal would reduce the sheriff’s budget by almost 4.6 percent, from the current $97 million to almost $92.5 million next year.

Steube said the proposed cuts have his budget as lean as he can go before the public will lose deputies on the road.

“This is it. I am at a dead end to provide the current level of service before I have to start looking at taking deputies from the road,” Steube said. “If I am asked to make cuts again next year there is nowhere else to go but people.”

Steube put it in starker terms in his proposal to Hunzeker.

“When we are unable to fill positions due to budget shortfalls, officer safety may be compromised and tragedies can and do occur,” he wrote.

Steube also referenced a “continued escalation of gang activity, home invasions, and a surge in homicides this year.” In 2008, crime increased in unincorporated Manatee and spiked by 2.4 percent, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“Though badly needed, I have not included a request for any additional positions this year,” Steube wrote.

The personnel cuts are projected to slash $980,000 from Steube’s proposed budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year, but how that number is met is very much up in the air, Steube said.

“I am very concerned, said Steube.

“I am hoping in the next few months things will play out in a way that won’t mean anyone’s job.”

Steube has also proposed to slash $442,000 in overtime for deputies, as well as all retirement, medical and other benefits earned as deputies work overtime. Steube said employee benefits during regular hours will not be affected by budget cuts.

The personnel cuts are most likely going to mean headaches for customers seeking basic services, but the cuts are not expected to affect emergency response, the number of deputies on the street, or corrections deputies in the jail, Steube said.

“My priority is for citizens to not see anything change on the road or in the jail,” said Steube. “But there are lot of other services that could be affected.”

Jobs are not the only casualty in Steube’s budget proposal.

He has also proposed putting on hold the purchasing of new equipment, as well as slashing spending for everything from fuel to office supplies, to the tune of $3.1 million.

The sheriff’s office vehicle replacement program would take the biggest hit – a cut of $1.1 million, according to Steube’s proposal.

County Commissioner Larry Bustle lamented the prospect of job losses and other cuts in the sheriff’s proposed budget, but said nothing is set in stone as commissioners will not see any budget proposals until May 28.

“It is unfortunate, but we are in times where extreme measures are necessary,” Bustle said of the cuts. “I am concerned that the sheriff would take a hit like that, but it is almost certain that we don’t have any choice.”

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