LEE COUNTY, Fla.- Cutting the sheriff's budget, charging more for an ambulance trip, raising taxes and fees. Those are options that Lee County administrators are putting out as possible options to balance the budget.
Lee faces a shortfall of nearly $30 million. For years, it has dipped into reserves to balance the budgets. Now, those reserves are running low, and administrators are suggesting some more painful ways to achieve balance.
"We have to look at revenue and some things other than reserves. We have to figure out, how do we balance the budget without using reserves," says Lee interim Manager Doug Meurer.
One scenario would cut the sheriff's budget by $8 million, a 5.6 percent drop. The sheriff's office says the budget now is around $137 million. Meurer calls the $8 million cut just a starting point for discussions.
Already, Sheriff Mike Scott is objecting. He tells WINK News that such a cut would be absurd and unthinkable, and could endanger public safety. The sheriff has suggested he may need more money to put a deputy in every public school, a priority since the Connecticut school massacre in December.
Other scenarios call for charging more for ambulance runs. Meurer says the goal is to get more money for Emergency Medical Services, which has an 8-million dollar annual subsidy now.
Commissioner Larry Kiker tells WINK News, "We have to look at everything. We have to look at revenue streams, including property taxes. We cannot continue to operate with deficit spending."
One option would increase property taxes by a modest amount, about $60 a year on a home valued for taxes at $150,000.
Commissioners are supposed to talk about the budget options at a worshop on Monday afternoon. They must approve a balanced budget by th end of September.