Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott hand delivered his proposed budget for fiscal year 2011-12 to Lee County commissioners Tuesday morning, trimming $6.3 million from the current operating budget of $150 million.
It’s the third year in a row the Sheriff’s Office has slashed its operating budget, seeing a total of $17 million in reductions since 2008. If approved by the commissioners, the Sheriff’s Office will be operating on a $143.6 million budget.
For Scott, his agency’s cuts, combined with a 9.8 percent decrease in Lee County crime, speaks volumes of the Sheriff’s Office recent work.
“We’ve never seen worse economic times,” Scott said during a news conference with the media. “The crime rate falling during the same time the budget’s falling speaks volumes. I’m very proud of that.”
The first major cut for the Sheriff’s Office in recent years came in 2009, when the agency reduced its budget by $4 million to $156.5 million. In 2010, the Sheriff’s Office cut an additional $6.5 million, bringing the budget down to $150 million.
In addition to a falling budget, crime rates in Lee County have dropped 30 percent since 2007. In 2010, Lee County saw 2,859 serious crimes, down from 3,168 in 2009.
With the County Commission facing a $46 million operating deficit, Chairman Frank Mann was pleased to see the cuts Scott was able to make.
“I think in the last two years the sheriff’s shown a strong willingness to recognize the dire straits we’re in,” Mann said.
Next year’s 4.2 percent cut comes nearly a month after 50 Sheriff’s Office employees, whose combined salaries were close to $3.1 million, took a buyout. The buyouts allowed the Sheriff’s Office to eliminate 20 positions, creating a total of 105 position reductions since 2008. Six civilian and 14 certified positions were cut, including three captains, eight lieutenants and six sergeants positions.
Down 17 high-ranking and high-salaried positions, the eliminations make up $2 million of next year’s cuts. An additional $4 million is from “hard-line negotiating,” Scott said.
“We’re in a buyer’s market,” he said. “If I’m buying, I’m in control. Vendors want and need our business. From guns, bullets, shoes, uniforms — if you want our business, you’re going to come off the price.”
In addition to negotiating prices with vendors, the Sheriff’s Office did not include merit pay or cost of living adjustment increases.
In total, the law enforcement general fund saw a 3.21 percent cut, the corrections general fund saw a 4.28 percent cut, and the court service general fund saw a 6.79 percent cut. The budget funds 1,521 positions within the Sheriff’s Office, 1,037 of which are certified law enforcement, corrections and court services personnel.
Reductions in the budget were a challenge this year as Scott plans on assuming school resource officer responsibilities currently covered by the Fort Myers and Cape Coral police departments. For Scott, having an officer in all 29 Lee County public middle schools and high schools is a priority.
“If the City of Fort Myers can’t afford it, we need to be there,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what uniform the officer is wearing — law enforcement needs to be in schools.”