LEESBURG -- While some media representatives have billed Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals' budget hearing today before the Lee County Commission's Finance Committee as an "us-vs.-them" showdown, Rachels said on the eve of the hearing nothing could be farther from the truth.
Noting that reports of his request for "a million more dollars" made him look greedy in the eyes of the uninformed, Rachals said Tuesday he doesn't really look at dollars and cents when putting together his budget requests.
"When I'm putting together my budget, I look strictly at what we need to do the job we're supposed to do," Rachals said. "I know (the Commission) has to look at it in dollars and cents, but I look at my requests as manpower and equipment needs.
"I feel that everything I've asked for in my budget is justified. We haven't increased manpower in our department since Wal-Mart moved here -- in eight years -- and frankly it's wearing our people out. Don't get me wrong, our folks are stepping up to the plate and getting things done. But when you work with a personnel shortage and equipment that's in bad need of replacement, well, it just wears folks down."
What's drawn the attention of some is the amount of money that will be needed to finance the requests Rachals included in his budget wish list. Among those amounts are $486,134 to fill new positions within the department, $420,000 for replacement vehicles, a $39,000 increase in capital and training funds and $50,000 to replace the roof on a training building at the law enforcement center.
For the jail, Rachals has asked for new positions that will require an additional $358,648 in funding and $145,000 for improvements to the facility.
Finance Committee Chair Bill Williams said he expects today's hearing with Rachals to go as smoothly as meetings with other department heads leading up to a Fiscal Year 2011 Budget expected to come in at around $20 million.
"A budget is a moving target," Williams said Tuesday, "and we will continue to work with our department heads until we get this thing done. I will say that we intend to put every dollar we cut from other departments into public safety because that is the No. 1 priority of this Commission.
"I know Sheriff Rachals is aware of the restrictions we're working under in trying to put together a balanced budget without raising taxes. I really think this is going to work out."
Rachals said he appreciates the efforts of the Commissioners as they work to balance the county's budget.
"I know times are tight right now, and I know (Commissioners) want to get us everything they can," the sheriff said. "I will be grateful if we can meet at least some of these needs."
Commission Chair Ed Duffy, who also serves on the Finance Committee, said the board is working diligently to keep from adding to the burden of taxpayers in the county without cutting jobs or furloughing employees.
"You can believe that any additional funds available will be applied to public safety," Duffy said. "The Budget Committee and the entire board realize that protecting the health, safety and welfare of our citizens is our No. 1 priority.
"We're going to do everything we can with this budget to accommodate the needs of Sheriff Rachals."
Today's budget hearing is scheduled to start at 1:30 p.m.