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County might ease sheriff’s budget cuts

BRADENTON — After hearing from Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube on Thursday about the dire situation his office is facing with next year’s budget, county commissioners indicated they may be willing to spend more to keep the public safe.

“I’m not in the position to risk this community’s public safety if you’re not comfortable with what you have to do,” said Commissioner Joe McClash.

Some commissioners suggested funding the sheriff’s office through a sales tax increase, but County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said it could take up to two years to get that proposal passed.

“If the public can be convinced that the county has cut as much as can be cut and see the effect it is having on the sheriff’s office, they may be will to accept a tax increase,” said Commissioner Larry Bustle.

Commissioner Donna Hayes said residents may have to accept a cut in quality of life services, such as parks and libraries, so that the public safety departments can be funded.

Steube, as well as county Supervisor of Elections Bob Sweat and Property Appraiser Charles Hackney, presented their 2009-10 spending plans, which take into 5 percent spending cuts they were earlier asked to make.

The proposed $92.5 million budget for the sheriff’s office would cut 12 jobs, including six deputy positions.

“We’ve made great strides in managing criminal activity in face of the economic environment,” said Steube, giving examples of new crime-fighting techniques, such as the DNA testing lab his office now uses.

He said in 2008 the sheriff’s office performed 62 DNA tests that resulted in 86 arrests.

“Reduced funding puts this valuable tool at risk,” Steube said.

Over the past two years, the sheriff’s office has cut 30 positions, forcing officials to shuffle personnel to cover homicide and other investigations. So far this year, there have been 12 homicides in unincorporated Manatee, three more than in all of 2008.

“I’m keenly aware of the million of dollars being cut in the county budget,” Steube said, “but the reductions will have a negative impact on public safety.”

After hearing sheriff office Comptroller Tom Salisbury describe where all the cuts were to come from, McClash asked the sheriff to come back in August after the commission finishes reviewing its budget and tell them what it would cost to provide adequate public safety services.

“The community’s saying, ‘Cut our taxes, cut our services,’ but they don’t realize what they’re losing,” said Commissioner Ron Getman.

Getman said per capita, Florida residents pay the third-lowest amount of taxes.

“We’ve cut all the fat,” he said. “Now we’re cutting into the bone.”