|Strong support for Law Enforcement and a desire to be fiscally conservative are not mutually exclusive ideals...|
The budget process this year for the BCC has produced a lot of tension, gnashing of teeth, and ill-will---all directed at the BCC and individual board members.
Over the last few weeks and last weekend in particular, I have studied copious amounts of information in order to proceed rationally during the budget meetings. I'm working toward a compromise position with respect to the Sheriff's office budget that will hopefully result in an increase to his proposed allocation above the currently proposed 1.57% increase. As I stated on the radio and on the dais, I believe the figure that we arrive at will be higher, perhaps totaling a 3-4% increase over last-year's level. I have also stated that I don't think we will get to the 8% year over year increase the sheriff has requested.
Beyond the work of tweaking the budget, making cuts, and attending endless meetings, the venom directed at us personally is a disappointment.
In fact--the most disappointing aspect in the process thus far has been the personalization of the process.
The issues are being conflated. The talking points are being put out that "Unless the board funds the ECSO budget to 100% of what has been requested--the BCC does not value law enforcement." This
is untrue--at least in my opinion and from my individual perspective.
So let's look at the facts as they have thus far been presented to me personally:
1. For the last 5-year period, the sheriff's office has received budget allotments that average about 4% in increases yearly.
2. During the past 4 years, sheriff's office employees have received annual pay increases of 3% in each year.
So the idea that suddenly the BCC is turning on law enforcement has left me bewildered.
I'm new to this board, I have made no promises to anyone about their individual budget(s), I'm not a part of the apparently toxic history of the BCC/Sheriff, and I am simply doing the best I can personally with the information and resources at my disposal.
So why the venom directed at me?
For years and years I have strongly supported law enforcement.
In fact---when I was on the school board and I saw the way the police and the teachers locally and nationwide were being blamed for societal dysfunction--I wrote this editorial which put a finger on the jugular vein of the problem. This piece went viral.
I did learn, last night, that indeed the amounts requested in previous budget years, while representing 100% of what the Sheriff formally presented to the BCC as his budgetary "ask"--did not in fact represent his initial requested amount in discussions with county staff. Nor did these requests represent his actual need for correcting compression issues which have accelerated officer attrition. Apparently, conversations were held between the administrator and the sheriff and the amounts requested of the board were actually a compromise based upon an assurance of future plus-ups of the budget once the salary study is/was finalized.
Okay, so I get that this could be a frustrating situation. But I didn't create this problem, I am trying to help find a fix.
The board went a long way last night toward this fix with endorsement of a plan to save $1.6 Million this year by drawing down the number of inmates housed in Walton County to 150 while simultaneously moving Pathways for Change participants to a different location to free up beds.
Commissioner Underhill proposed some other common-sense cut proposals which I'll support. This said, he also put forth several cuts that won't find support from me or the rest of the board in my opinion.
So we are working and we are working transparently. We need to do everything this way--no more arrangements, no more wink and nod deals that will put us in the crosshairs when financial reality hits the fan.
So yes---I caution everyone against making side-deals or compromise requests going forward--there is not a guarantee the board will honor these if we are unaware of them and not privy to details contained therein .
I also say that I won't support a year-over-year tax rate increase--never have in 10 years of public service because governments are too fat and taxpayers are getting fleeced all over the place and I won't be a part of that no matter who says I should raise taxes.
With respect to finishing this year's budget--I won't take the insults hurled my way personally; I'll be professional and we will finish the budget in a fiscally responsible fashion without raising millage rates--that is my prediction. I do play poker, and Chess, and even Checkers and Dominos------ but I won't participate in personality-driven reindeer games.....