Homestead City Council held essentially its fifth budget workshop Wednesday September 30.
Homestead’s 2021 budget revenue was adopted by a four to three vote at the September 23 Council meeting. It sets tax millage at 6.2055 mills – the same as last year with the inclusion of the 0.2480 mills county library tax.
General fund expenses also were set: $52,226,103 General Fund with a C.R.A. budget of $4,633,756, for a total City budget $193,198,509 including all enterprise and debt service funding. These figures closed budget gaps of $1.9 million for 2020 and $1.170 million for 2021 without raising tax millage.
City Manager Cate McCaffrey said, “Staff presented a balanced budget in August with no layoffs or tax increases which could not have been done without $1.8 million in cuts to the budget.”
“Council voted on September 23 to set aside funds in the budget to be used for public safety and asked staff for additional information on body cameras and new police officers,” said McCaffrey. “This is the purpose of today’s budget workshop.”
First year costs for a five-year body camera contract are $777,000. One new police officer with all equipment costs $150,609 according to City Finance Director Carlos Perez.
AXION, the company providing body cameras, offers 8% down on first year costs ($112,000) with deferred payments over the life of a 5-year contract. Coupled with $50,000 of initial equipment, staff estimated forfeiture funds could afford to pay leaving $177,000 remaining in those accounts.
AXION also offers the ability to opt out of their body camera contract after the first year if there are insufficient appropriations to pay for the program.
McCaffrey said “Speedway recurring revenue could pay for two additional police officers (required to administer body cameras).” Those funds are the annual lease payment the race track makes, now accruing to the City because the Speedway bonds have been paid off.
In addition, the City Manager’s plan funds three to four new police officers without raising taxes. She proposed cutting an additional $49,000 from City Council’s budget (travel and training), cutting police department overtime by $101,000, and moving the $450,000 Seminole Theatre subsidy from Parks & Rec Department to the C.R.A. The C.R.A. budget includes $900,000 for unspecified land acquisition that could be reduced to afford this new budget item. The City Manager said these changes would pay for up to four new police officers under the current budget.
Councilmember Larry Roth said, “We’d all like to see body cameras but I’m not sure the City can afford it with new police officers too. What if we can’t make the (camera) payments next year? Seems we’re making sacrifices and depending on future better times.”
“Taking the $465,000 for the Seminole Theatre to the C.R.A. is really not just for this year but future years too,” said Mayor Steve Losner. “We’re reallocating budget dollars between them and the General Fund and that’s one part of a two part conversation.”
Councilmember Steve Shelley said, “Thank staff for finding a pathway to resolve the budget issues we raised.
I have possible concerns about earmarking forfeiture funds that are nonrecurring.”
“The police are understaffed and need more officers,” Shelley added, “But other City Departments have similar concerns not having sufficient staff to do their jobs and these are core functions of the City. What do we say to them?”
Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough-Staggers said “This pathway began in June for me with the announcement of the Racial Equity and Access Plan designed to bring parity to the African-American community. One area was police reform and accountability.
I’m excited about this plan; this re-appropriating of funds is creative.”
“We’ve all pledged to the public to have this system but I had sticker shock when I saw what staff was needed to run it,” said Mayor Losner. “The question becomes at what cost and how do we bear that. But I’m willing to move this to the next level.”
On the issue of available grants, an AXION representative said the company employs grant facilitators that can help Homestead find and apply for relevant grants.
“I’m encouraged to see creativity behind City staff recalculating these numbers,” said Councilmember Erica Avila. “We have this Racial Diversity Plan that’s important, encompassing a variety of challenges facing our community. Can we use earmarked funds to tag on the racial diversity plan work, using forfeiture funds? These are steps in the right direction.”
The Councilmember liked hearing about camera specifications that protected citizen privacy by providing an automatic trigger for filming when weapons are pulled rather than continual recordings.
Before the final vote, Mayor Losner told Council, “I got word today the County approved reimbursement of C.R.A. programs for rental assistance and small business assistance. So potentially monies are coming back we could look to for programs we’ve discussed.”
Manager McCaffrey reminded Council any agreements would have to come back to Council after legal review. “These are 2019 numbers supplied by AXION,” she said. “And they’re only in place until October 27.”
Council unanimously approved the motion to adopt the recommended funding plan, allowing a subsequent decision to hire “up to” four new police officers. This decision is in addition to the two officers familiar with police procedure required to manage a body camera system.
That system also requires a civilian employee for administration. At an earlier budget hearing, the City Manager proposed re-assigning an existing staff position to the police department to cover that function and therefore lowering initial operating costs.
In anticipation of October Council meetings, Mayor Losner asked the City Attorney for “a discussion about the expiration of the ability to have remote meetings assuming no (state) orders are signed between now and then”.