LEESBURG — Lee County Sheriff Reggie Rachals was philosophical about the $129,700 hit his budget request took during his department’s hearing before the Lee Commission’s Budget Committee Thursday.
“Everybody goes into this process expecting some cuts,” Rachals said after the hearing that was without the fireworks of last year’s LSO hearing, during which Chief Deputy Lewis Harris told committee members they were endangering the lives of law enforcement personnel and county citizens with their cuts.
“We give (the committee) a list of the things we feel like we need to do our jobs the best we can, and the commissioners have to look at what the county can afford. No matter what we get, though, we’re going to do our jobs the best we can. We’re going to do what the people of this county are counting on us to do.”
Budget Committee Chairman Bill Williams told Rachals the county’s general fund was not able to absorb the cost of new vehicles requested by the sheriff’s office.
“If you guys can hold out until (already approved) SPLOST (special-purpose local-option sales tax) VI kicks in (in 2013), there will be funding for new vehicles,” Williams said. “But right now, there’s just no money available.”
LSO Col. Dennis Parker told the committee some late changes handed down by the state Legislature, which he said came after budget requests were made, might impact funding needed for operation of the county’s jail.
“The Legislature kind of snuck in a few late deals that could put added burden on the counties,” Parker said. “They’ve raised the level of what constitutes a felony over a misdemeanor in theft by taking, forgery, burglary and other cases, which means a lot more cases may be going to (county) Magistrate Court. That’s going to put more people in our jail.
“We’re going to try and hold the line, but it’s going to be a really difficult trick. The ripple effect is that we could get to a point where we have to house our prisoners in other counties’ jails. And that could get expensive.”
Williams told Probate Court Judge John Wheaton he’d “zeroed out” line items for furniture and office supplies, part of the $1,900 the committee trimmed from Wheaton’s $227,817 request. Williams said the county hoped to use law library funds contributed by the different county courts for such in-office items.
Budget Committee member and Commission Chairman Ed Duffy called cuts made to Library Director Claire Leavy’s $599,314 and Chief Building Inspector Joey Davenport’s $281,508 requests “insignificant.”
“We made little cuts here and there,” Duffy said. “They were pretty insignificant in the overall scheme of things, but those small cuts do add up.
“Still, I think it’s a pretty sure bet we’re going to have to dip into our reserve funds to balance this budget without a tax increase. And this is not the time for a tax increase.”
The committee moved Facilities Supervisor John Patrick’s hearing scheduled today up to Thursday and cut a little more than $44,000 from his request. Most of the cuts involved the cost for another part-time employee Patrick had sought.
“We just weren’t able to bring on new personnel this year,” Duffy said.
The 2012-13 budget hearings conclude today after a meeting with county Coroner Ronald Rowe.