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Rutherford asking for property tax rate increase

1:56 PM, Jul 12, 2012   |    comments
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --Thursday afternoon Sheriff Rutherford, flanked by senior staff, broke down his budget.

Rutherford said the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has cut 204 actual jobs in two years, but that it adds up to a total of 300 positions.

In a letter obtained by First Coast News, Sheriff John Rutherford says the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office will cut 319 positions: 74 police officers, 91 corrections positions, and 154 civilian positions.

This including shutting down the entire Community Service Officer (CSO) program on August 24th. 63 CSO employees will be laid off.

Here's the internal letter Sheriff Rutherford sent to JSO employees Wednesday:

A LETTER TO EMPLOYEES OF THE JACKSONVILLE SHERIFF'S OFFICE Wednesday, July 11, 2012

As you all know, the City of Jacksonville continues to experience a serious financial crisis. As occurs throughout the year, and particularly in preparation for the upcoming fiscal year budget, we have been appraising the mayor's office of our successes (lowering the crime rate through innovative, intelligence led policing tactics and citizen involvement) and our challenges (sustaining crime reductions after having laid off personnel and reduced services; paying for services for which we have no operational control). In fiscal year 2011-2012 the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office was forced to lay off sworn police officers for the first time in the history of consolidation. This was a deep cut, and in addition to the other people, positions and services we eliminated, all were mandated by the city's circumstances, last year. The crisis has not abated. It has actually been strained even further by the increased required pension payment combined with the revenue shortage caused by the continued declines in our property values, resulting in a decline in revenue from property taxes. Normally, some of this revenue decline would be adjusted through a process called "rolling back" - which allows the taxable rate on property to self-adjust to previous year's tax revenue, resulting in NO increase in property taxes paid by the property owner. It allows the city to collect the same amount of revenue as was previously collected. It is my understanding that this adjustment will not occur and the result is less revenue and less money into the general fund. That directly forces cuts to city services, particularly police and corrections. I would categorize our budget discussions thus far, internally and with both the mayor's office and various members of the city council, as deliberative and comprehensive, but simply put: the pain continues.

I have continued to voice my frustration over the percentage of our expenses which are NOT controlled by us. I am referring to internal services provided by the city for which

actual costs should be identified, but cannot be. Theoretically, the costs for services such as IT, fleet management, insurance, benefits, should be passed on to the customer, JSO, with NO MARK UP or cost shifting. However, our budget continues to reflect line items for which we have no purchasing power (employee insurance, fleet management, copiers, etc.) or for which I have no bargaining power (the pension). My concerns have been noted, but we are heading into fiscal year 2012-2013 with no equitable solution to addressing these large sums or parts of our budget for which I have no managerial oversight; and no solution for the pension issue, for which I have no vote nor any control. These items are all placed in the JSO budget. As I grapple with that, I must remind you that we are stepping up and making sure we are doing our part to help the city meet its fiscal challenges. But I do this at a time when the crime reductions of the last three years, reductions for which every one of you and our citizen-partners have worked, may no longer be sustainable with the manpower levels we will be facing after this next round of cuts.

At  this  time it appears, yet again, the only way to meet the huge  budget reductions being forced upon us by the declining revenues and the rising cost of the pension payment is if I make wholesale, massive cuts to the expenses that we do control

- which translates to people and services to this community. The bulk of those budget cuts will come from the elimination of our Community Service Officer program, and the dismantling of our Community Transition Center (minimum security) corrections facility and its programs, such as secure drug treatment.

The Community Service Officer (CSO) program: This program has been a valuable force multiplier and career launching pad for many hard working young people. But, sadly, we will be following suit with other agencies around the country that have also been forced to eliminate such programs. We will realize a $3.3 million dollar savings, but will be facing tremendous challenges in transitioning their duties and responsibilities to sworn officers and other agencies. In particular, working the crashes that occur on our state roadways within the city limit will have to be assumed by the Florida Highway Patrol. I have met with their leadership, and Director Michael Edwards is handling the operational transition and challenges this change will present. The bottom line here is not the $3.3 million dollars saved, but instead the challenges our citizens will face in wait times for FHP officers to respond to crashes that require a  police report for insurance purposes or a professional determination of fault. I appreciate the support of the FHP in making this transition. The entire CSO program will be eliminated on August 24th, with sixty-three CSO's being laid off. T he Community Transition Center (CTC): Often referred to as "the crown jewel" of our corrections operation, after August 24th we will no longer be running the nationally recognized 135 bed in-patient drug rehabilitation center known as Matrix House. Many non-violent, drug and alcohol addicted offenders have had their lives and futures changed because of this program, and it is with great sadness we must shut it down. The resulting dollar savings will be $4.4 million dollars for the operation, and we will forego the$1.5 million of funding from the city for the counseling services that have been provided by River Region Human Services. Programs such as home detention will be expanded, and those inmates/clients who currently have to be supervised will be matriculated into the general jail or prison populations; populations that are already burgeoning. The "savings" from the elimination of the CTC will be realized through the reduction in force of 58 corrections officers. There will be reassignments within our corrections department, as well as the reversions of four corrections lieutenants and 14 corrections sergeants to lower rank. Nine civilian staff members, including program supervisors, will also be laid off. We will be shuttering the facility at 535 Washington Street, and moving the pre-trial services office to the CTC location at 451 Catherine Street. It has better infrastructure, and is a more serviceable facility. This cut will not impact our re-entry program. Again, any savings realized by the "bottom line" is not easy for me to understand, as I come to terms with the possible increase in the recidivism rate; the impact to the jail population; and our long term ability to deliver corrections services that are restorative and go beyond the mere warehousing of inmates. We will be permanently eliminating 319 positions in the agency. They are comprised of 74 police officer  positions (vacant/will become vacant in FY 2012); 91 corrections positions (58 layoffs/33 vacancies) and154 civilian positions (72 layoffs/82 vacancies). Yes, many of them are currently vacant, but completely removing them from our personnel cap means any hope we had of hiring more officers; replacing some individuals who retired or resigned; or making up for the loss of the 45 officers and 29 civilian personnel laid off last year will not be possible. A few other changes that we might expect include reworking our organizational chart, from the top down, to shift responsibilities and duties in response to program closures and manpower changes. I am studying those items closely, and anticipate more announcements as we "even out" the span of control of various parts of our management structure. With regard to traffic control during special events in our city; the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office will no longer be able to afford to provide traffic officers for which we do not receive compensation for our costs. Like many other large cities in the country we will not be offering traffic control to any event or facility as a convenience to our citizens. This will signify a tremendous shift in the expectations of our citizens, as they may be forced to wait in traffic longer than they previously have, if a sponsoring organization is notable to cover the costs of officers working traffic.

This  is  where  things  stand as  of  today:

In the coming days there will be a lot of rumor, speculation, and as talks continue with city leaders, this plan may change. Please remember that these reductions are a direct result of increased pension costs and reduced revenue for the city. Revenue that I believe can be recouped, to some degree. I believe that we cannot continue to follow a "scorched earth" approach to meeting revenue shortfalls, which are happening because of a) a world-wide economic downturn and b)our city's long term failure to deal with the growing pension obligation, including properly investing back when pension returns were solid. We, the city, need to cut expenses and increase revenue. I will be advocating for an increase in our property tax rate, to provide necessary revenue for public safety. Our  property tax rate is purported to be (if not the lowest) among the lowest of any large city in the state. I want you to know that you remain my top priority - your safety, your well-being, and by extension, the safety and welfare of all our citizens. We will weather this and any storm, literally and figuratively. No crisis changes the fact that I am honored to lead you and proud of all you do for our community, everyday.

God Bless You All

John H. Rutherford, Sheriff

And here is a statement from Mayor Alvin Brown:

"I have personally met with Sheriff Rutherford numerous times in the development of the proposed city budget. While I respect the Sheriff and our dedicated public safety officers and employees, I strongly disagree with the Sheriff's proposal to raise property taxes on hardworking taxpayers. In these very difficult economic times where nearly 38,000 Jacksonville citizens are unemployed, taxpayers cannot afford to bear additional burdens. Instead, every branch of government must do its part to streamline operations, eliminate duplication, and increase efficiency.  Key services like fire and rescue, libraries, and children's programs should not have to sustain more than their fair share in spending cuts."

First Coast News

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