Showdown at Alachua County Budget Meeting
It was a day filled with high and lows as the Alachua Board of County Commissioners met to talk about the budget for the upcoming fiscal year today.
There was tension as organizations contested the Community Agency Partnership Program (C.A.P.P.) Advisory Board's funding recommendations; and frustration as the Commissioners shifted money around, acknowleding there is not enough to go around.
Despite the poor economy, Commissioners said yes to the work of the Southwest Advocacy Group know as S.W.A.G. and granted $225,000 to build a community resource center in the area.
The Board members also allocated $100,000 to the Early Learning Coalition. However, the same elation was not felt by all.
Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell said the public safety of the community and her staff is being put at risk by the Commissioners and cited numerous examples to back up her claim.
Sheriff Darnell submitted a budget for 2011 two weeks ago that she said was as low as it could possibly go and tonight the County Manager and the Board of County Commissioners gave their response.
Commissioner Mike Byerly stressed that everyone is dealing with cut-backs and that each person has to deal with the constraints of the budget, including the Sheriff's Office. He said, "It's only $500,000 and something...that cuts both ways."
The Board members also emphasized throughout the meeting that public safey encompasses much more than law enforcement. Commissioner Byerly said, "Some people have a difference of opinion about what constitutes public safety, some people believe a lot of the things the County Commission does to prevent crime, to address some of the root causes of the problem...if we spend the money there..."
But, the Sheriff says she needs $500,000 to make it work and passionately responded to the County Manager's assessment of her proposal.
She said, "How about everybody put your boots in the field and work at the jail and see what it feels like...That's really public safety and that's where the money needs to go because as a government, you're supposed to fund public safety first and you're not doing it."
The Commissioners countered that law enforcement already get's a large enough portion of the budget. Commissioner Byerly said, "The facts are that in the last four years the demand for service, the call load- the calls that come in for a response from law enforcement...in the last four years in Alachua County, has gone down 20 percent...that's 20 percent reduction in call load and demand for service in four years. During that same time period, the budget for the Sheriff has gone up a million dollars. So relative to the need for service, the budget has actually gone up quite sharply."
But Sheriff Darnell is standing her ground. She said, "They give different definitions for public safety, but it's the boots on the ground and the communications in the department and jail personnel and they're not funding me adequately."
There was no resolution tonight, but the Board of County Commissioners will meet Thursday to make their final decision.
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