[ PRINT ]

PBSO Budget – A TAB Update


Introduction

During the preparation of this article, TAB members Fred and Iris Scheibl, and Meg Shannon met with PBSO Chief Deputy Mike Gauger and COO George Forman to discuss the PBSO budget history, the challenges they are facing, and the most fair way to present what seems at first glance to be a budget that has grown at a very rapid pace since the 2003 base year of our analysis.

Prior to the meeting, our earlier open records request for spending data from 2003-2011 was fulfilled, and we were able to get a picture of where the money was spent and where the fastest growth has occurred.

At the meeting, we asked them to consider disclosing their budget line item detail as part of the normal process (rather than requiring citizens to jump through the open records request hoops). Both the Martin and Broward Sheriffs do this to varying degrees – Martin even makes the data available on their website. PBSO on the other hand, provides their budget input to the County Administrator only in the minimum form specified by Florida statute. We were told that more transparency was a possibility, and they would have to discuss it among the PBSO executives.

We also asked them for two other things – for the Sheriff to voluntarily come under the jurisdiction of the Inspector General and Ethics Commission, and for there to be a public audit of the Mobile Data Project, which we have been told has suffered some significant setbacks. On the former, the answer was absolutely not – internal controls and audit functions within PBSO are sufficient and there is no chance that PBSO will voluntarily do any such thing. The answer to the second was also an emphatic no.

Since that meeting, we were sent some additional information, including a 2010 Resource Guide (which contains useful information and metrics about the jurisdictions in the county), and a list of links to publicly available information about county operations and the Florida statutes that concern Career Service Protections, FRS and collective bargaining. Although useful, these sources did not help us with the specific information we were after, namely:

  • The number of residents in the operating area, and the average number of jail inmates 2003-2011 (The other year resource guides would suffice)
  • Call rate by year 2003-2011
  • Staffing at the department level: sworn / civilian / part time for 2003-2011
  • Years that major new jurisdictions were added and how that changed the revenue/expense/staffing
  • Any extraordinary events/challenges that caused a spike in spending, and what costs were incurred (eg. Homeland Security mandates, trends in crime statistics, etc.)

In response to this query, Budget Director Kathy Cochrane forwarded our questions to Central Records Division for action and redaction, and on Tuesday 11/23 we were assigned a tracking number. When the information becomes available, we will refine the presentation in this article to incorporate (hopefully), a more nuanced view of the PBSO budget over the last 8 years, and likely a better justification for the rapid growth in spending.

Budget Summary

TAB has obtained additional data about historical spending in PBSO, specifically a year by year spending comparison from FY2003 to FY2011. This is more detail than provided to county staff during the budget preparation, and is useful to determine trends. (For a TAB summary of the yearly data provided by PBSO, click HERE) During that time:

  • Personal Service costs rose 92%
  • Operation costs rose 27%
  • Per employee compensation rose 49.4%
  • Benefit costs (pension + insurance) rose 154%

This time period saw inflation of 21% and the county population grew 6%.

In the latest budget year, personal service costs (pay and benefits) represents 83% of the total PBSO budget. This compares to 62% for Fire/Rescue. Any future cuts to this budget will necessarily involve staff reductions or reductions to pay and benefits.

Likely Future Budget Scenarios

TAB has proposed that the county consider a spending level rollback, perhaps to the levels of 2006. That year is significant because the property valuations of 2011 have fallen to about what they were in 2006, and that level of spending would be sustainable with 2006 pre-bubble levels of taxation (See chart).

The Sheriff now accounts for 23% of the county appropriations, up from 21% in 2003. By contrast, Fire/Rescue is now 18%, up from 14%. The other county spending though, has been relatively flat since the “bubble” burst in 2008, while both PBSO and F/R continued upwards. The Sheriff did reduce his budget for FY2011 and held positions flat, but is still about 10% above 2008. To roll back to 2006 spending for PBSO would require a reduction of 28% from current levels.

Outlook

TAB believes that the coming years will be particularly challenging for Palm Beach County as property valuations continue their slide and the federal and state “stimulus” money that has been propping up the budget is no longer available. Either significant spending reduction (we would say to 2006 levels or earlier) or equally significant tax hikes will be necessary, and PBSO will not be immune to the challenge. That said, TAB also believes that the Sheriff’s core missions of Law Enforcement, Corrections, and Court Services are a necessary function of county government. Is everything being done today inside PBSO part of those core missions? We don’t yet know the answer to that, and the lack of transparency to the public makes the analysis difficult.

We would like to know if the rapid growth of the PBSO budget was justified by conditions in the community, and how the 4011 employees (1734 of them civilian) are allocated today. We have no reason to believe that there is anything inappropriate being done, but we have no way to tell. Therefore, we would request that PBSO participate more fully in the county budget setting process and implement a public records improvement in keeping with the spirit of the Florida Open Records Law (Statutes chapter 119) that says (among many other things):

“119.01(2)(e): Providing access to public records by remote electronic means is an additional method of access that agencies should strive to provide to the extent feasible. If an agency provides access to public records by remote electronic means, such access should be provided in the most cost-effective and efficient manner available to the agency providing the information.”

We believe the “most cost-effective means” for budget information is either the county or PBSO websites. The county staff does a world class job of this and would be able to assist PBSO in the transition. Martin County Sheriff’s Office provides another example as the Martin equivalent of the information we need from PBSO is available on the MSO website today.

Additional things that would greatly improve the public access to PBSO would be:

  • Better cooperation with county staff and commissioners in providing detail to the budget process, even when not mandated by statute.
  • Executing an inter-local agreement to voluntarily place PBSO under the juridiction of the Office of Inspector General and subject to the Code of Ethics and Ethics Commission.
  • Allow an outside audit of activities that have raised questions in the community – specifically the status of the Mobile Data project and the issues with Intergraph, Inc.

With or without TAB actions, we believe progress is possible in these areas. During the recent election, both candidates for District 2 called for more transparency from the Sheriff, and we are hopeful that the winner – Paulette Burdick, will pursue this. In Broward County, 72% of the voters supported the Charter Amendment that places BSO under the Code of Ethics. There may be a court challenge to this, but it is clear that the citizenry would prefer it. Lastly, questions were raised about Mobile Data during the last budget cycle, and there are members of the community that have begun to probe this program. TAB also expects to investigate this further.

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