Sheriff seeks $36 million budget increase
If approved, his budget would be $453 million
By Leon Fooksman | South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12:17 AM EDT, May 2, 2008
With the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office projecting an 8.6 percent budget increase next year, the county's top administrator said Thursday the cost of law enforcement can't keep escalating without a rise in property taxes or a reduction in county services.
The Sheriff's Office is seeking $453 million for the 2009 budget year — $36 million more than this year and up $68 million, or 17.7 percent, from $385 million last year.
"Over the long term, we'll have to deal with this spending," said County Administrator Bob Weisman, who ordered other county departments to trim budgets between 5 percent and 10 percent in the face of state budget cuts and forced property tax reductions.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw said his 3,833-employee agency in recent years put 35 new deputies on the streets in growing communities and now must go after gangs and other criminals responsible for a spike in killings, assaults and robberies.
Expenses went up in the jail to control a surge in inmates, speed the booking process and cover rising costs of food, medical care and transportation for inmates
, he said. The Sheriff's Office also began paying for hundreds of new laptop computers for deputies to use on the road and for other computer upgrades that needed to be done years ago, he said.
Next year's budget is "bare bones," Bradshaw said, because nearly 80 percent covers salaries, benefits and overtime.
While the official budget request seek $457 million, he said that figure will go down $4.4 million once additional revenues from fees and permits are factored in. That will put new spending at $36 million, below the roughly $40 million projected months ago.
"I'm doing the best I can to help the county and in providing all of our services," Bradshaw said.
Sandy Parker, a government activist, said rising Sheriff's Office expenses represent a no-win situation for taxpayers. No one wants to see a reduction of police services at a time of rising violent crime,
she said. At the same time, residents don't want higher taxes or continued cuts in services in libraries, public transportation and other sectors.
"I can't blame anything on the sheriff or on crime. I blame it on the cost of everything going up," said Parker, former vice president of the Coalition of Boynton West Residential Associations.
Weisman said county commissioners eventually will have to decide what to do about rising Sheriff's Office expenses. He said the agency's rate of increases can't be factored into the county budget much longer without raising taxes or cutting services.
The county and the Sheriff's Office squared off last year over the county's demands that the agency trim about $15 million from the current budget. Bradshaw threatened that up to 125 deputies could be laid off if the cuts went through. The two sides settled and the layoffs were avoided.
Bradshaw said his staff members managed to keep next year's costs from rising even higher. They increased fees for federal inmates housed in the county jail, reduced printing costs, delayed pay raises for certain employees and charged more for businesses and community groups to hire deputies for off-duty work, he said.
The county's first budget hearing on the Sheriff's Office budget is June 18.