Sheriff, Commissioner clash over budget

 

Lazaro Aleman
ECB Publishing, Inc.

A tiff that has been brewing for some time between Sheriff David Hobbs and Commissioner Hines Boyd over the budget came to a boil earlier this week when the latter suggested that the former should consider reducing his department’s spending. It started with Clerk of Court Kirk Reams informing the board that it was time to schedule workshops to begin preparing the budget for the coming year. Reams noted that with the exception Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.40.22 PMof the constitutional officers, whose budget requests were due this Friday, the other department heads had submitted their budget requests and the numbers looked good. He said that other than for a two-percent rate increase in health insurance, which he considered reasonable, the rate for the pension fund was remaining relatively stable and revenues were actually increasing. “Our revenues are up quite significantly, a sign of the economy coming back up,” Reams said. Indeed, a spreadsheet of estimated general revenues that he shared with the commission showed a projected $271,229 increase over last year’s revenues. Among the largest increases: $100,703 for the Amendment 4 offset, from $70,368 last year to $171,071 this year; $56,252 for the Fiscally Constrained Revenue, from $560,051 to $616,303 this year; $44,402 for the local half-cent sales tax, from $1,039,287 to $1,083,689; and $90,572 in sales tax revenue, from $714,432 to Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 2.40.28 PM$805,004. One major exception was ad-valorem or property taxes, which showed a decrease of $12,206 if the millage rate remained at the current 8.3 mills, from the $4,644,907 generated last year to $4,632,701 projected for this year. In fact, Reams said, to generate the same amount as last year, officials would have to go with the rollback rate, which was 8.7 mills, an unusual circumstance. Typically, the rollback rate is lower than the existing rate. Boyd, in his turn, remarked that based on the numbers he had seen so far, the budget this year appeared to pose the best beginning he had seen since coming on the board. “This is the first budget I’ve seen where we don’t have to start by chopping off and where we may even be able to reduce taxes,” Boyd said. He had some concerns, however, he said. Relative to Fire Rescue, his concern was that the department’s proposed numbers showed significant salary increases for its personnel, Boyd said. His other concern relative to Fire Rescue was that the department wasn’t totally self-sustaining and still required money from the general fund. “We shouldn’t have to subsidize Fire Rescue with general revenue,” Boyd said. Relative to the Sheriff’s Department, Boyd noted that 84 percent of the county’s ad-valorem tax revenue went to fund the department, an argument he has made before. “No other county in the state funds its sheriff’s department at such a level per capita,” Boyd said. “I would ask the Sheriff to look at the ways that other counties our size do it so as to bring the department more in line. Otherwise, we can’t give taxpayers a break.” Boyd said he was aware he was entering politically charged territory. “But it needs to be put on the table,” he said. Hobbs’ response was sharp. Boyd, he said, should get his facts straight before speaking. “I disagree with you, Mr. Boyd,” Hobbs said. “If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you don’t need to say anything.” Boyd, Hobbs continued, had no idea what his department did or what his personnel faced dealing with inmates and patrolling the county to keep it safe. “You need to think what you’re going to say before you talk,” Hobbs said. Commission Chairman Benny Bishop intervened, noting that that issue would no doubt be a topic of discussion at the coming budget workshop. Hobbs said he’d said all he had to say for the moment. But he would definitely have more to say at the budget workshop, he added. This is not the first time that the issue has surfaced. It initially came up last December, when a citizen suggested to the commission that it should consider giving deputies a pay increase to make their salaries more in keeping with state troopers. “When the next budget comes around, if the Sheriff asks for more money, go with it,” Paul Henry, a retired Florida Highway Patrol trooper, told the board on Dec. 3, 2014. Boyd took exception to the request. The commission, Boyd said, had no control over deputies’ pay, as the Sheriff determined their salaries. It wasn’t the commission’s funding of the department that was at issue, Boyd continued. Rather, it was the way that the funding was being managed, he said. “We spend 84 percent of our ad-valorem taxes to fund the Sheriff’s Department,” Boyd said. “I have not found another county in Florida that spends that much on its law enforcement and corrections. At least not one that spends that much per capita.” “This may not be popular,” Boyd went on to say at the time. “But it’s been a concern of mine since I came on the commission. The low pay of deputies is not a commission issue, however. It’s one the Sheriff only can address. You can’t ask taxpayers to pay more for deputies.” At the time, Hobbs indicated he would have a response to Boyd’s comments at a later date. The issue, however, did not come up again, at least not publicly, until this Tuesday’s evening meeting.