MANATEE -- In an era when every other governmental agency is talking about cuts to its budget, the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office is asking for a 4.4 percent increase, including a 3 percent across-the-board pay raise.
Sheriff W. Brad Steube suggested that the county, which is grappling with decreased property tax revenues, fund the increase by raising the millage .190, which he estimated was an average of $30 per household.
According to the tax collector, the millage rate for the sheriff’s office is currently 3.82. The addition would push his portion of the county’s millage to 4.01. The current overall millage rate in the county is 14.70.
“Millage increases are certainly not popular,” Steube wrote in his budget request, “but neither is an understaffed Sheriff’s Office with inexperienced deputies and the results it might bring.”
Millage is the tax rate used to calculate ad valorem taxes. One mil equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. Steube’s $30 average increase is based on a $150,000 house with no homestead exemption.
If the sheriff’s proposal is approved, the agency’s budget will rise from $93.6 million to $97.7 million.
In a letter to the county administrator, Steube blamed the increases on the state’s proposal to require public employees to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their pension plans, the rising cost of gas and increased workloads that dictate a need for 10 new deputies and 10 new corrections officers.
The 3 percent raise for all employees in the sheriff’s office would cost $1.87 million. Steube’s budget proposal states that it’s needed so employees won’t suffer a decrease in pay -- or at least a less severe decrease -- because of contributions to the Florida Retirement System.
The 20 new employees would cost an additional $2 million.
Steube intends to save about half of that by eliminating 14 positions, including five elementary school resource officers.
The 10 new deputies would require 10 new cars, in addition to 17 cars that Steube said also must be replaced adding another $800,000 to the budget.
Other equipment for the new deputies would add another $164,000 to the budget.
Replacing two retiring dogs in the K-9 patrol would cost $30,000, according to the budget proposal.
All together such capital outlays in the budget proposal would increase 190 percent over this fiscal year.
“I have seen the County’s financial outlook for the next several years and know it looks bleak,” Steube wrote in his letter to County Administrator Ed Hunzeker.
“It is because I have been entrusted with the safety of the citizens of the County that I am submitting a 4.4 percent increased budget.”
The high cost of fuel is hitting the county hard.
Steube estimates that the fuel costs in the coming year will cost his agency nearly $1 million.
He budgeted for $849,000, a 45 percent increase over this year and added another $200,000 to be put into a fuel contingency fund.
Even though he had a “flat budget” this year, Steube said “we were able to continue to slightly reduce crime by 4 percent.”
“During my tenure as sheriff, this Office has been successful in consistently lowering the crime rate,” Steube wrote.
“Though the FDLE crime reports are not yet out, our projection is that we will finally be out of the top ten highest crime rated counties. This will be an exceptional accomplishment since Manatee County was the fourth highest crime county in 2006.”
But he said the trend can not continue without “adequate staffing and reliable equipment.”
The County Commission will consider the sheriff’s request as part of its overall budget in June.
Hunzeker said his staff is still working to cut the budget and has not yet made any recommendations.
“We’re keeping an eye on what the state is going to do,” Hunzeker said.
Based on reduced property tax revenues, the county faces at least $8 million in cuts to its budget.
The state is working to trim $3 billion and the federal government is also cutting.
Hunzeker said the county also is faced with rising fuel costs, which means it will have to reduce travel “as best we can and still perform our functions.”
Ultimately it is up to Manatee County commissioners to decide whether the sheriff’s office will get a 4.4 percent increase.
While commissioners cannot tell constitutional officers how to spend the money they are budgeted, the board is responsible for setting the tax rate and the overall budgets.