Homestead City Council was busy Tuesday September 8, considering the new CRA budget, discussing a proposed tax millage rate, examining staff’s City budget, and conducting the business of its monthly COW meeting.
The five hour meeting focused on increased millage rates to pay for police body cameras and more police officers.
Mayor Steve Losner said there were 65 public comments registered for the meeting.
First year cost of body cameras was estimated at $777,799 under a theoretical five year contract with subsequent annual cost of about $450,000. The system requires three new positions to administer, two of them sworn police officers.
Body cameras require additional revenue of $0.2641 mills to cover that cost.
Council’s August consensus was hiring ten police officers costing $1,506,091, requiring another $0.5114 in millage to pay for them. Homestead currently has 113 officers but needs between ten and forty additional officers to meet the national average for a town its size.
The ten officer new-hire would be in addition to three positions required for body cameras. “You need individuals familiar with police code and procedures,” said Sgt. Morales, head of the police professional compliance bureau. “It’s not an easy program to run. Some departments are six months behind on reviewing the videos.”
The officer explained reviews as necessary to redact incidental innocent faces such as children to protect people’s privacy.
Body camera videos might be retained thirty to ninety days but could be stored indefinitely as evidence in active crime investigations. Officers are responsible for their own cameras to preserve the evidentiary chain of custody necessary to certify records.
Mayor Losner was concerned about an entire new division within the police to manage the system. “This could create another whole bureaucracy that feeds on money year after year,” he said.
At Homestead’s current millage rate, revenues necessary for more police and body cameras added mills for a proposed total tax (ad valorem) of $6.9810 per $1000 of taxable property values. That’s a 25.3% increase from last year’s tax rates. Average new tax for a property assessed (not the retail value) at $200,000 was estimated at $155.10 for the year. That is in addition to current millage tax costs.
City staff carefully explained that this new budget added a library tax of $0.2840 mills that had been collected by the County and therefore was not a new cost. Residents also pay $0.4485 in debt millage for voter-approved City projects, a slight reduction of 0.0315 from last year as the debt is paid.
Staff gave Council final cost figures in August showing an operating deficit of $668,000 that included the increased cost of police hires and body cameras.
“With reductions in state revenue-sharing this was expected,” said City Manager Cate McCaffrey. “Since then, with further cost-cutting and extending the hiring freeze, costs are down. New predicted revenues not only eliminated that $700,000 (gap) but also should bring in additional revenues, subject to the unexpected.”
City Finance Director Carlos Perez said “the proposed budget is balanced. It does not use City reserves. The City is doing more with less.”
Director Perez, City Council and staff never expected to keep a ten mill tax rate released with property-owners TRIM rates as an estimate.
The final millage rate, including debt service, library tax-collection, and City budget costs is to be set September 23 at the final budget hearing. The City website has information on remote access to that hearing.
The City tax rate is expected to yield $20.595 million for the City’s general fund plus another $2.512 million for the CRA. The general fund is 27.1% of the City’s budget.
Homestead’s total fiscal 2021 budget is estimated at $194,987,839. About $102.1 million of this cost is from City enterprise funds such as the electric utility. Another 20% of the budget goes to necessary funds like internal services, special revenue, debt service, and capital projects.
The general fund budget offered by staff showed severe reductions in categories that can be controlled such as $274,000 in cuts to Mayor and Council costs, $319,000 cuts to the City Manager’s funds, and $273,000 in cuts to the Public Works budget.
In a search for solutions to the cost of police and body cameras, Councilmember Sean Fletcher asked what federal or state funds might be available to help. The City Manager said those had been explored and might be available in 2021 but that was uncertain.
Councilmember Jenifer Bailey clearly expressed the dilemma, “How can we fund body cameras and not put the pressure on taxpayers? There are no funding sources now but federal dollars should be available soon.” Her idea was to reform the City’s recycling efforts to provide more revenue and reduce costs. Although generally opposed to raising taxes, she thought body cameras necessary.
Councilmember Steve Shelley said now was not the time to raise taxes so he would be vote no.
“Police have done a phenomenal job with the resources available,” said Councilmember Erica Avila. “Cameras benefit residents and can exonerate officers and help put bad guys away.”
“Why do we need body cameras at all?” asked Councilmember Larry Roth. Reviewing police statistics on 23 complaints and 5 internal affairs (non-public) investigations, statistics didn’t appear to support an investment in body cameras.
The police spokesman said, “Understand we’re in favor of cameras if we get the manpower we need but it’s a misconception that cameras save lives. Rating the use of force, cameras will not fix the problem. You cannot control an incident with the use of a video.”
Councilmember Patricia Fairclough-Staggers said, “A new taxable cost of $155 works out to $13 a month. If not now, when is the time for this? I think it’s worth the sacrifice.”
She suggested meeting in the middle. “If we move forward with body cameras as proposed, it’s a very marginal increase. If we just add five new police officers what’s the millage cost?” She was told that millage would be 6.4396 or 6.1856 without the library tax included, which she termed a happy median.
After public comments, Council pended any decision to the September 23 final budget hearing, indicating a preference for funding body cameras but fewer than ten new police officers.
Voting on the motion, yes votes were Roth, Fletcher, Avila, and Fairclough-Staggers; voting no were Bailey, Shelley, and Losner.
The special call meeting also took a vote on the proposed fiscal 2021 budget as prepared by staff. Prior to the vote, Mayor Losner announced he could not support the budget due to the increase in taxes.
The preliminary budget vote was five to two, Losner and Shelley voting no.