INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – Indian River County Sheriff Deryl Loar pitched his increased budget for next year to about 25 members of the public, explaining why his department needs an extra $418,000 instead of cutting 6 percent of his overall budget.
Sheriff Loar told the audience that slashing his agency’s budget is not negotiable.
“I would have to fear that to happen,” Loar said. Loar’s budget request will go before the Board of County Commissioners during its budget workshops later this month.
Loar and his staff have put forth a budget greater than last year and he thinks that, if necessary, the county needs to dip into its reserves to fund it.
Months ago, County Administrator Joe Baird told every department and agency that he expected 10 percent across the board budget cuts.
Loar said commissioners eased that somewhat for the Sheriff’s Office, but still wanted to see 6 percent cuts. Instead, he’s offered up a budget that is a half million dollars more than last year.
“We do a tremendous amount of things that no one in the county does,” Loar said.
The county has basically four options – make Loar whittle down to the minus 6 percent figure; ask other departments to go back and cut more; take money out of reserves; or raise property taxes.
Loar said that raising the millage rate for property taxes should be a last resort and that cutting other departments could be a viable option. The preferred strategy, he said, should be taking money from reserves to preserve programs and staff at the Sheriff’s office.
Loar said he “fears” what would happen without the funding and that cutting the budget would “jeopardize our mission.”
“You hear a lot of talk about fund balances and credit ratings and that’s great, but when you pay cash for everything . . .,” Loar said leaving the conclusion to the audience.
Loar said the county’s staff has used a tactic that amounts to “scare everybody that you’re going to raise taxes” to enforce departmental and agency cuts.
“There are dollars in reserves that are sufficient to make these things whole,” Loar said. “I think your millage rate should be your last option when you have a tremendous amount in fund reserves.”
To justify the increase he’s asking for to fund his operation and its 496 employees, which would bump the agency budget from $41.9 million to $42.4 million, Loar presented data showing that 27 percent of his budget is made up of fixed costs that have not much to do with providing law enforcement.
“Almost 27 percent of the budget doesn’t have rubber on the road and doesn’t have men and women in cars,” Loar said.
These expenses, ranging from pension contributions to health benefits to insurance, are often on the rise.
Baird and Budget Director Jason Brown have been reluctant to deplete reserves to maintain or increase funding levels for departments, agencies, nonprofits and for constitutional officers, of which the Sheriff is one.
The Board of County Commissioners has been under political pressure to trim the size and cost of government and to ease the tax burden on local residents. This pressure has come not only from the economic conditions and high unemployment, but also from citizen budget hawks and the Tea Party movement.
Loar said he doesn’t see commissioners as an obstacle to his budget, as he said cutting the Sheriff’s Office budget would be like “taking a step back” from what he views as progress made in lower crime and better customer service.
“I am very confident and comfortable that they (commissioners) understand our position,” Loar said. “I don’t foresee that being a problem at all.”
Though Loar said he believes he has solid support among commissioners for public safety and for his budget proposal, he urged members of the public to come out at 1:35 p.m. July 14 when the Sheriff’s Office budget is heard to give their input.
“This process is vital, that the public get to vet it,” Loar said. “We’re very much aware of the public perception of what we do.”
Loar’s Powerpoint presentation went over the major departments of the Sheriff’s Office, following the sequence of events from a call for service to 911 through a subject being arrested, charged, prosecuted and ending up as a guest in the Indian River County Jail.
To avoid having an even larger budget request, Loar said his grant writer has secured $1.78 million in funding for capital and equipment over the last 18 months. Loar said those items such as radios and a crime scene investigation vehicle keep the Sheriff’s Office competitive.
“And when I say competitive, I mean competitive with the criminal,” he said.
Loar pointed out that he had renegotiated contracts for inmate food and for prescription drugs to save money. He estimated that percentage of the budget to be about 4.76 percent.
Among those in attendance at Loar’s meeting in the Sheriff’s Office auditorium were several members of the Taxpayers Association of Indian River County, Commissioner Joe Flescher, District 4 County Commission Candidate Thomas Lowther, a representative from the firefighter’s union and developer Joe Palladin.
Nearly a dozen of Loar’s top staff were also on hand to answer questions, but Loar assured the public that the meeting was not creating an overtime situation.