Brevard commissioners OK sheriff's 'critical needs' budget

Tax increase will help fund budget

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey was successful Tuesday in persuading county commissioners to support his budget proposal that would increase the tax rate for a component of the law enforcement budget.

Commissioners voted 4-1 in favor of declaring a "critical need" related the Brevard County Sheriff's Office budget, News 6 partner Florida Today reported. County Commissioner John Tobia cast the no vote.

With that required "supermajority vote" of at least four commissioners, it allows the county to exceed a voter-approved cap in how much money can be raised via property taxes in the Law Enforcement Municipal Service Taxing Unit portion of the budget.

Although property tax rates for the county general fund and 18 other specialized operating tax rates would decline under County Manager Frank Abbate's proposed budget, that would not be the case for the Law Enforcement MSTU portion of the budget.

The proposed county budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 includes an increase in the Law Enforcement MSTU tax rate of 2.17 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value, with the tax rate going from $1.0925 per $1,000 in the current 2018-19 budget year to $1.1142 per $1,000 proposed for the 2019-20 budget year.

For a property owner who pays taxes on a property with a taxable value of $200,000, that increase amounts to $4.34 a year.

The proposal commissioners supported would result in a $1.77 million or 9.44 percent increase in tax revenue generated by the MSTU portion of the sheriff's budget, bringing the total to $20.47 million. 

To have stayed within the provisions of the charter cap, the sheriff's MSTU tax rate would have had to drop to $1.0629 per $1,000, generating revenue of $19.52 million, when increases in property values, including new construction, during the last year are taken into account. 

The Law Enforcement MSTU is paid by residents of unincorporated Brevard, as well as residents of Grant-Valeria, Malabar and Palm Shores, towns in which the Brevard County Sheriff's Office provides law enforcement services. That property tax component was billed for a total of 153,283 property accounts in the current budget year, according to data provided by the Brevard County Tax Collector's Office.

The overall proposed Brevard County Sheriff's Office budget for 2019-20 that Ivey submitted is $136.11 million — which is about 10.4% of the overall county budget of $1.31 billion. That compares with an amended 2018-19 BCSO budget of $134.06 million.

Abbate has said the increase in the sheriff's budget is not directly affecting other entities within county government and is not resulting in any service cuts.

Abbate said, though, that if he had more money for his overall county budget, he would have proposed using it for such things as additional road repair projects and other infrastructure improvements.

Ivey detailed for commissioners through a PowerPoint presentation numerous critical needs the BCSO has, including such things as: 

• Costs related to increased school security stemming from the state's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which required an increase in school resource deputies at Brevard schools, with related equipment and vehicle costs.

• Challenges in recruitment and retention of deputies, due to non-competitive starting pay, compared with other police agencies in Brevard and nearby counties.

• A growing population, coupled with a shortage of deputies.

• Deferred vehicle and equipment replacements. Ivey cited as examples such equipment as mobile, portable and base station radios; Tasers; and automated external defibrillators.

Tobia did not directly criticize the sheriff's budget plan.

But Tobia did express concerns that there could be the need for service cuts in other areas in future county budgets, should the economy take a downturn and property values decrease.

At the same time, Tobia noted that Ivey mentioned other unfulfilled critical needs that Tobia said could show up in a future budget request.

Ivey's presentation cited such unaddressed critical needs as cramped space for the BCSO's West Precinct facilities and its Evidence Unit, as well as the need to spend an estimated $6.46 million over the next four budget years on replacing radio equipment.

County Commission Vice Chair Bryan Lober said he has no problem with Ivey's request, since the overall county budget does not raise taxes.

Lober said supporting the sheriff's request to declare a critical need for law enforcement fits in with Lober's campaign promise of making public safety one of his top three priorities, along with infrastructure and improving the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.

Eleven members of the public addressed the County Commission prior to the vote on the critical needs request, most in opposition to the proposed Law Enforcement MSTU tax rate increase that exceeds provisions of the so-called "charter cap" approved by voters in 2008.

The charter cap is based on a formula that ties increases in property tax revenue to increases in the Consumer Price Index. The cap had the support of 73.1% of Brevard voters casting ballots on that county charter amendment. A provision of the charter amendment allows the cap to be exceeded by a supermajority vote of commissioners.

One of the speakers from the public questioning the declaration of a critical need was Suntree resident Matt Nye. He noted that the local crime rate is down, and Ivey should be able to use some creativity in reducing his budget so as not to exceed the charter cap.

Among those supporting the sheriff's budget request was Merritt Island resident Ralph Perrone Sr., who told commissioners he had no issue paying more money in his business and residential property taxes for the Law Enforcement MSTU.

"I'm here 150% to support the sheriff's budget request," Perrone said, adding that he did not want to have a situation in which a deputy's vehicle broke down on the way to an emergency call or the deputy's Taser malfunctioned when the deputy tried to use it.

The sheriff's proposed budget includes six broad categories: law enforcement money coming from the county's general fund; law enforcement money from the Law Enforcement MSTU; county jail complex; judicial operation; animal services; and contracted services for law enforcement to Cape Canaveral and Port Canaveral, which is funded by those entities.

County commissioners on Tuesday voted 5-0 in support of the proposed overall county property tax rate for 2019-20. They will vote on approving the county budget after two budget hearings in September.