Bay County's constitutional officers have submitted preliminary budgets for Fiscal Year 2014, and several are seeking increases.
Those spending plans are being impacted by higher costs for health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act and state-mandated retirement plan funding. The Property Appraiser, Clerk of Court and Sheriff have all requested budget increases. The Supervisor of Elections budget shows a slight decrease and the Tax Collector's budget won't be submitted until it is approved by the state.
Sheriff Frank McKeithen has proposed a $33.6 million budget for FY 2014, an increase of $1.4 million or 4.35%. "I'm just hoping that we can get the budget through and I'm trying to be optimistic about it," McKeithen said. "Protection costs money."
The sheriff is keeping his operating costs flat but says that's beginning to stretch resources. He said calls for service are up 4.5% and a grant that funded deputies for the Cedar Grove area is going away. McKeithen said it costs $316,000 annual to pay for the Cedar Grove coverage. "We've got to come up with [the money] or we're going to lose those people because we can't just pull them out of the air," McKeithen said.
The sheriff also wants to give his employees either a pay raise or a one time payment. "These people need something," McKeithen said. "This is the first time since I've been sheriff that we are actually losing people because of salaries."
McKeithen said he appreciates the impact the economy and declining revenues have had on county services, but sees public safety as a priority expenditure. "We've got to have personnel out there, we've got to have vehicles that run, we've got to have equipment," McKeithen said. "Is it more important to protect the citizens or is it more important to do something else? Those choices are going to have to be made if we continue to cut."