|WCSO BUDGET AND OFFICE ATTACKS WAKULLA TIMES OCTOBER 2012|
BY DONNIE CRUM
As Sheriff of Wakulla County, I appreciate the opportunity to speak to the public about items that involve law enforcement and public safety. During the summer months creating a budget for the coming budget year is a top priority. We want to make sure that we have enough budget dollars to Keep Wakulla Safe while also fitting our agency needs into the overall Wakulla County Commission budget.
The Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office is proud of its law enforcement record and proud to be a part of making sure that the county remains a safe place to live.
The statement was made that “Our county has one of the highest crime rates in Florida.” This statement could not be farther from the truth. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) keeps track of crimes through statistics sent to them by our agency and other law enforcement agencies in the state. Actually, Wakulla County is one of the safest counties in Florida in which to live. FDLE compares the smaller counties with the larger ones by publishing a percentage chance of becoming a victim of crime per 100,000 residents.
The chance of becoming a victim of crime in Wakulla County was well below that of many of the other 66 counties in the state and well below the percentage chance of becoming a victim in Leon County. In fact, Wakulla County is in the lowest third of counties with a much smaller chance of becoming a victim of a crime.
In 2011, the index crime rate in Wakulla County increased by 15 percent, due mostly to an increase in larceny cases. The sheriff’s office has been proactive in making residents aware of the importance of locking your doors at home and locking your vehicle no matter where it is parked and always remember to remove valuables from your vehicles.
We also take all criminal activity seriously and that is why Wakulla County ranked 14th highest out of 67 counties for having the highest crime solvency rate in Florida.
I want to address some budgetary claims that have been made against the sheriff’s office. Some individuals claim that the budget is not available to the public. This is false. The sheriff’s office budget has always been available to the public. It is a public record and is available to anyone who wants to review it.
A claim was recently made that the WCSO Jail is being operated by the federal government. This is also false. The sheriff’s office has always operated the Wakulla County Jail for the Wakulla County Commission. At no time has the federal government operated the Wakulla Jail.
The WCSO has a contract with several law enforcement agencies to house detainees or inmates in the facility. Recently, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency changed their medical requirements to house detainees at WCSO. A decision was made to agree to the $400,000 medical budget increase to continue to house ICE detainees. The alternative would be to terminate the ICE contract which provides Wakulla County with $2.9 million worth of revenue, revenue which helped Wakulla County Commissioners balance the budget when board members discovered a shortfall two years ago.
The additional cost of operating the jail has come from the requirement of additional mental health and medical professionals on staff that was not required prior to 2012.
Wakulla County was prepared for the natural disaster. However, Hurricane Dennis was never predicted to have the storm surge that eventually came to the county by the National Weather Service. Emergency Management planning is only as effective as the information that is received from the National Weather Service. But the sheriff’s office worked to warn coastal residents that Dennis could provide a severe storm surge despite the fact that the storm did not directly target Wakulla County.
I find it odd that Hurricane Dennis became an issue when the surge arrived in 2005. We have had many natural disaster events since 2005 and the sheriff’s office, public safety staff of the county and Emergency Management do an outstanding job keeping citizens safe from harm. The response to Tropical Storm Debby and Tropical Storm Isaac are two recent examples from June and August.
From time to time, especially during the month of September, comments regarding the sheriff’s office budget are made. Sometimes the comments come from commissioners, sometimes from citizens at board meetings and sometimes it is just talk.
The sheriff’s office budget is 25 percent of the county budget, not 53 percent as has been reported. The budgeted funds include 24 hour/7 day per week law enforcement and corrections coverage. The WCSO also provides budget funding for the E-911 Division, court security and Emergency Management.
We are in a unique position because most rural communities in Florida are supported by a city police department. Wakulla County has no police support and is the sole provider of law enforcement door-to-door.
We are currently operating under a law enforcement budget that is less than the budgeted amount for the fiscal year 2006-2007. The number of law enforcement positions has not increased in six years.
We pride ourselves with continually receiving a clean annual audit opinion from the county’s independent certified public accountants. The audit team spends two weeks at WCSO testing hundreds of receipts and disbursements for accuracy, allowability and compliance with policies. All funds of the WCSO are included with the audit, including forfeitures and donated funds. The agency is also dual accredited in both law enforcement and corrections. The WCSO has received a clean audit report with no deficiencies found.
We have had to tighten our budget during the economic downturn and reduced our funding by $743,723 in the current year. In the past four years, we have returned $582,988 of unspent budget dollars to the county commission.
The sheriff’s office has been chastised for not conducting a “full state audit.” In reality, former Sheriff David Harvey requested an Operational Audit which would have been conducted by the Auditor General’s office. In 2008, however, Wakulla County Commissioners rejected the audit request due to its extreme cost.
We have implemented policies to ensure that we are being fiscally responsible with tax dollars and have worked hard to follow our policies.
The WCSO has also worked hard to make our tax dollars go farther by conserving energy and making office infrastructure changes to stretch our funding.
A $30,000 Department of Transportation (DOT) grant provides funding to place additional deputies on the road to patrol for aggressive and impaired drivers. The grant allows additional manpower to be used for sobriety checkpoints and DUI saturation patrols.
Some of the other activities that Keep Wakulla Safe include: numerous narcotics arrests that get drug dealers off the streets; the recovery of more than $250,000 worth of stolen property; educational efforts designed to make citizens aware of scams before they become victims; fraud awareness; child and Internet safety; a very popular Drug Take Back program to dispose of unwanted or unused narcotics; WCSO philanthropic efforts have helped senior citizens stay cool with the donation of box fans and warm with space heaters and Special Olympians can travel to State Olympic Games thanks to donations generated by the sheriff’s office during Tip A Cop fundraisers.
We also pride ourselves in having outstanding staff that love their jobs and the community and strive to serve the citizens well. In September, our K-9 Sgt. Ronald Mitchell and partner Gunny were recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as theK-9 Trailing Team of the Year. The Florida Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have recognized Wakulla County two years in a row for the outstanding work the agency does to reduce traffic crashes and drunk driving in the county. The recognition is part of the Law Enforcement Challenge. The purpose of the competition is to encourage law enforcement agencies to use education and traffic enforcement to make roads safer for motorists.
We strive to provide the very best law enforcement and corrections services to Wakulla County for the least amount of money possible.