Jack Parker, Brevard County Sheriff, expressed appreciation to the Board for the opportunity to discuss the budget situation; he realizes the reason the Sheriff's Office is present is because of its concern of the MSTU and patrol deputies; he also realizes it is only being discussed as a proposition; but he did not want to take that threat to public safety not seriously; and he just wanted to make sure the Board knew the importance of what it meant. He stated the BCSO's overall recommended budget, even with the MSTU funded at the rate he submitted for it reduced, was one percent less; the reduction was achieved despite having to fund in excess of $2 million of mandated additional expenses; what that means is there have been many mandated expenses that he is not trying to bring to the Board as an increase, but trying to figure out a better way to manage the BCSO so he does not have to bring it to the Board; and this is the third year in a row the BCSO has submitted a budget to the Board that is smaller than the previous year, while absorbing more than $7 million in mandated cost increases that are going up. He stated he would like to talk about how the BCSO compares to other sheriff's offices surrounding Brevard County; the per capita spending that Brevard County residents spend on law enforcement is $120 per person, which is significantly less than $62 spent by the surrounding counties; that means the BCSO gets less money for the same job; and he would stack the BCSO up against any other sheriff's office, thanks to the residents of Brevard County. He stated when the Board talks about wanting to know where all of the General Fund money was spent, he can say that a big chunk of that money was spent on the jail situation, which was completely out of control and had to be dealt with; but even with all of the dollars that the County pumped into the jail situation, in construction, personnel, and everything else that had to be done, the average of the surrounding counties spend $91 per capita on their jail facilities; and after all that spending, Brevard only spends $72 per capita. He added, the County Commission and the BCSO has worked closely together to try to fix that problem cheaply; the BCSO has done a lot of innovative things as partners, which he is proud of; in 2005, if the BCSO had been sloppy and did what a lot of others did, which was to get a gigantic debt service of $150 million to pay for what the consultants recommended; and in addition to what the Board and County Management are dealing with, another $7 million or $8 million would have to be funded, just to make the jail debt payment; but the County owns the jail, and that is something to be proud of.
Sheriff Parker acknowledged the BCSO is a substantial chunk of the ad valorem budget that is handled by the Board of County Commissioners; but he wants the citizens to know that the County does not spend as much on law enforcement in Brevard County as is spent in other counties; in a lot of smaller counties, 95 percent of the General Fund budget goes to fund law enforcement; as counties get bigger and become more service oriented, that pie slice has a tendency to shrink; looking across-the-board to other counties, the pie slice is substantially bigger, even with comparable counties; and Brevard County is spending approximately $200 for law enforcement, and $87 for the County Jail Complex, and $2,000 on other things, which are also very important to quality of life.
He stated he is in front of the Board to address the millage issue; it is a complex issue that can sometimes get lost in the understanding of exactly what it is; the MSTU is a separate funding source, which is part of the General Fund umbrella for law enforcement to fund patrolled deputy sheriff's for the unincorporated areas of Brevard County, to include incorporated the BCSO to serve them as their sheriff's office; and Palm Shores, Grant-Valkaria, and Malabar fall into that example, which they all pay an MSTU fee for patrolled deputies. He noted that is a fair system because it would not be fair for Palm Bay, which has its own patrol officers, to then be paying a higher General Fund tax so it can put patrolled officers on Merritt Island; municipalities do pay a General Fund portion for the jail, warrants, and other things that are countywide benefits; and it is a good system, but the problem with it is that it is very inflexible. He advised the current law enforcement MSTU for this year is 1.0013 mills, which generates $14.6 million in revenue; it funds 194 deputy sheriffs for the unincorporated area; and the 1.0013 mills for the current year will only generate $1.7 million less next year if that rate is kept, because of declining home values and a variety of other factors. He stated the BCSO is requesting what is needed to remain the status quo; that millage rate fluctuates, sometimes down, sometimes up; in the last few years it has been up because of declining home values; he requested the 1.1313 mills, which is absolutely critical to give the funding needed to maintain the status quo; and some information has indicated he is asking for more, but that is not the case, as he is only asking for the status quo of the deputies that he has currently. He noted that even with the 1.1313 rate, the BCSO's overall Law Enforcement Budget is still reduced more than three percent; but that rate cannot be tweaked without losing deputies; the County's Budget Office departed from his recommendation of the 1.1313 rate; the Budget Office's recommendation was a $1.68 million revenue cut; and he knows the Budget Office is in a quandry over the budget and they had to bring something to the Board for permission to raise that rate without a lot of discussion. He noted, if the millage rate is allowed to exist and be set, it will cost 31 patrolled deputies; the areas that will be impacted by the loss of 31 deputies include, Viera, Suntree, Baytree, Scottsmoor, Mims, Windover Farms, Merritt Island, West Cocoa, South Cocoa Beach, Palm Shores, Malabar, Grant-Valkaria, Micco, Snug Harbor, and Barefoot Bay, which are all unincorporated areas; and if the Commissioners do not have any of those areas in their districts, it will be an even bigger impact. He explained the Board of County Commissioners has adopted, and rightly so, a minimum threshold for the number of deputy sheriffs that serve the citizens; according to that plan, the BCSO currently has a deficit of 76 deputy sheriffs; if everything was healthy financially, the BCSO should have 76 additional deputies; the Board has supported his efforts as he has tried to get COPS grants, for which he asked for the maximum of 40 deputies, but received zero; and the Board played a big part in allowing him to ask for that, knowing if he had gotten the 40 deputies he would be coming to the Board asking for some substantial funds as the match for that. He noted the BCSO has not garnered a single additional deputy; and it is still 76 deputies under the minimum threshold; but he knows it is not prudent to expect more deputies right now.
Sheriff Parker further stated the probable impact of the loss of 31 deputies include the elimination of the School Resource Deputies, which is six deputies; the elimination of 21 patrol deputies; the elimination of the GAMEOVER Task Force; the elimination of a proactive approach to fighting violent crime; slower 9-1-1 responses, slower back-up for deputies; less investigative success; and reduced safety to citizens and deputies. He stated he is not comfortable right now knowing the amount of space between deputies when a deputy sheriff is in trouble; he is not thrilled with the response times right now; the BCSO does a great job with what it has; but he thinks it can do better; and the one thing that he knows is that the BCSO cannot do worse.
He summarized, the BCSO minimal budget request needs to be fully supported to include the setting of the law enforcement MSTU rate at 1.1313 mills, to ensure no deputy sheriff's are eliminated. He noted there was a suggestion that the STEP plan for deputies is tucked somewhere in his budget, but it is not; the funding for the STEP plan for next year is not part of the 1.313 millage rate; if there was a decision to do something about the STEP plan it would be on top of that millage rate; and he has no expectations that it is a possibility this year. He advised if something opens up mid-year he would love the opportunity to come to the Board to make it right. He noted it was only last year that the BCSO and the Board were facing a lot of the same problems; when the Board voted to support the deputy sheriffs with the STEP plan, which is important because it staggers the deputies for experience; and he knows if the Board could do that today it would, because it was the only Board in the State of Florida that did it last year. He stated the Board has proven over and over its support of the deputies; and he will not forget that.
Commissioner Fisher stated one of the concerns he has, even though he is a proponent of law enforcement and he supports the Sheriff's Office 100 percent, a lot of money in the past has gone to the Sheriff's Office, and rightfully so with what was going on with the jail; he is very active in kids programs; and he is worried about how many deputies Sheriff Parker might need if the Board cuts a lot of the preventive programs it has, and the kids will not have a place to go, or programs will suffer. Sheriff Parker stated the jail currently has 1,620 inmates; if Brevard were any other county in comparable size, the jail would have a population of 2,200 to 2,300; there are a lot fewer people in jail in Brevard County than most counties; it is called an incarceration rate; and it is a good thing because it is a lot less expensive to fund it, it is easier to manage, and more resources can be put somewhere else where they are critical. He advised the crime rate in Brevard County is less than a lot of other comparable counties, including the violent crime rate; it is not by accident, but by a lot of good reasons; there are great programs available, such as Crosswinds Youth Services, the YMCA, and the Boys and Girls Club, that work proactively to try to keep children from coming into an atmosphere of crime; but it is also because of the quality of service that Brevard County has; and he realizes times are tough, but there is so much to be proud of because Brevard's tax rate is very low in comparison to other counties. He stated just as the Sheriff's Office does, everything the Board does it does well; as a result, whether it is Parks and Recreation or anything it has built, has an important end result; if the County had none of those services, the jail population would be larger; and it is a matter of trying to put the pieces together to make the best decisions it can based on what the Board is dealing with. He stated he understands that $1 million to the Sheriff's Office means $1 million in cuts somewhere else; and he would not be asking for it if he did not think it was a matter of life safety for the citizens.
Richard Shoar stated he is speaking as a private citizen who relies upon the Sheriff's Office; hearing Sheriff Parker make his presentation, he thinks he has done the Board's job because he has whittled down to something that he thinks everyone can understand; he is proud of the Sheriff's Office; he has lived in Brevard County for 13 years since retiring from the Department of Defense; and he feels comfortable when people dial 9-1-1 and get a response.
Ron Chabot stated he has worked with three Sheriff's administrations, all of which have been good; Sheriff Parker's administration is excellent; the Sheriff has made a promise to cut the budget and he has done it; and Sheriff Parker has kept every promise about the jail. He stated the County needs all 31 deputies; the County actually needs 76 more deputies; but Sheriff Parker is not asking for that; and as a citizen and businessman, he understands what the Board is going through, but there needs to be a lockbox put on the Sheriff's budget. He noted the Sheriff's Office does a lot in the community other than just law enforcement; the County is going through tough times, just like any other household or county; what the Board needs to do is put a hold on any new spending, any new road projects, any new parks, or any new anything, and just maintain; and the 31 deputies need to be maintained.
Al Boettjer stated he is proud to see everyone in the audience in attendance to support the Sheriff's Office. He advised he is the president of a homeowners association in Port St. John that has 200 residences; the homeowners association has to deal with budget issues all the time; public safety is something that cannot be fooled around with; he likes knowing that a deputy will respond if he has to make a phone call; and he would hate to see a situation in which someone calls 9-1-1 and is not sure if a deputy will respond. He stated those types of budget cuts in the community can make it a ghost town; he has seen it happen in other places; the essential services are needed; there are wonderful people in the community who perform the essential services; and the Board needs to keep them. He concluded that from his point of view, the Board should support the Sheriff's budget.
Scott Pikus stated he is from Coastal Florida PBA, which is the association that represents the law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and all of the civilians within the Brevard County Sheriff's Office; and he is also a Sergeant with the BCSO. He advised today, there was a release of a 43 percent increase of law enforcement deaths in the country so far this year; Texas and Florida are the two leaders; and if the BCSO loses 31 officers, it will have serious impacts. He stated he sees people in the audience holding signs asking the Board to save the parks and make them safe; it would be hard to keep the parks safe if there is a loss of 31 officers; he understands the Board has a difficult job; and he asks that the Board support the Sheriff's Office budget.
Mayor Carol McCormack, Town of Palm Shores, stated she would like to ask that the Board support Sheriff Parker's budget; Sheriff Parker has honored each and every commitment he has made to the Board; she remembers when Sheriff Parker made the commitment to do something about the problem at the jail; and he solved that problem. She stated Sheriff Parker does not need less deputies, he needs more deputies; the Town of Palm Shores has an MSTU, and she counts each and every one of the deputies as a part of the Town's family; and they know it. She noted if the Board does not think the deputies have a tough job, all he or she has to do is read Page 1 of the Officer Down Memorial; each and every deputy puts his or her life on the line when they get out of the car, or off that motorcycle, or walk into the jail; and she urges the Board to support the Sheriff's budget, and to support the MSTU.
Commissioner Anderson expressed appreciation to Sheriff Parker for his informative presentation; sometimes it is difficult to explain the MSTU process; the Board has two MSTU's in each District, which is law enforcement and roads; and what he struggles with as a municipal resident is that they have to be careful that they are not always subsidizing services in unincorporated areas. He stated it is hard for citizens to understand that the MSTU is like a user-fee, and those citizens in the unincorporated areas are paying for the services the BCSO provides, and it is not spread out among other municipalities; and certainly the people in the unincorporated areas do not want to pay for Palm Bay police protection. He stated over the last week or so he has not slept much over all of the issues; he keeps thinking about law enforcement because one of his commitments was public services; and what has bothered him during this whole time frame was that when he was running for office, he committed that he would never allow a situation where he would scare the public with public safety issues in order to force a tax increase or increase spending. He further noted, somehow the 31 deputy layoff proposal got out of hand; the number one thing for the Board since he has been elected is public safety, as a core and essential function of government that all of the Commissioners support; and he will support the deputies in any manner that he has to, to ensure that they are fully funded.
Commissioner Nelson stated from the beginning he has said that cutting the deputies was unacceptable; he has been willing since its inception to roll the millage back because to him, public safety is the kind of tough decision the Commissioners were elected to make; it is a decision that is not necessarily popular, but it is the right decision; the irony is that even with the approval, it is not a tax increase, but it is a decrease of the Sheriff's budget by three percent; and that is remarkable in and of itself. He stated when the time is appropriate he would be pleased to make a motion.
Commissioner Infantini stated she is glad Commissioner Nelson changed his position from last year; and she will second the motion when appropriate. Commissioner Nelson stated it is only fair to say that last year he did have some issues with the original increase; but he voted for the budget when Commissioner Infantini did not.
The Board approved the Brevard County Sheriff's request to be fully supported to include setting the Law Enforcement MSTU rate at 1.1313 mills to ensure no Deputy Sheriff's are eliminated.