County Gives Final OK To Budget After Questioning Sheriff About Role In Mental Health

The Palm Beach County Commission.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw appeared at the Palm Beach County Commission’s final budget hearing on Tuesday, Sept. 15 to answer questions about why his budget occupies more than half of the county’s $5.4 billion spending plan.

A sizable portion of the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office budget is what it spends as the county’s largest mental healthcare organization, Bradshaw said.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who had invited Bradshaw and his staff to discuss the budget, thanked them for appearing and speaking with her prior to the meeting.

“I now know that  81 percent of the sheriff’s budget is tied up in contractual obligations for law enforcement salaries and correctional services, so we’re really just talking about 19 percent of the budget that they have some flexibility over,” McKinlay said.

McKinlay added that she had heard an earlier speaker talk about mental health programs in the PBSO and pointed out that when she was on staff in the county’s legislative affairs office, they had lobbied Tallahassee unsuccessfully for funding for mental health programs.

“When the legislature did not fund that program, the sheriff’s office picked that funding up in their own budget to try to make that happen,” she said. “Those services are being provided in partnership with the judiciary and with the law enforcement in our community.”

McKinlay also pointed out that the PBSO works with other agencies, including victim advocate agencies and the Police Athletic League to mentor youth.

Bradshaw said nobody does more in the county for mental health than the PBSO.

“You see around the country right now, other agencies are replicating our mental health unit, which has mental health professionals hired from the community to work with the deputies to de-escalate situations that before had resulted in a bad outcome. Now, because we have that ability, we use it not only for mental health, but for drug addiction to keep people out of the jail. I’m the biggest mental health provider in the county. We’re working hard to people keep out of the jail who don’t need to be there.”

Bradshaw said part of the de-escalation is having enough people to get to the incident in time to control the situation and take someone into custody without using an excessive amount of force.

“We arrested 17,000 people last year, and less than three-and-a-half percent used any type of force, and half of the three-and-a-half percent were minor uses of force,” he said. “That’s excellent.”

The commissioners gave final approval to its budget for fiscal year 2020-21 of $5.4 billion with an ad valorem tax rate unchanged at 4.7815 mills.

While the tax rate itself is unchanged from the current year, it is 4.26 percent over the rollback rate, which required a super majority of the commissioners to approve.

Commissioner Robert Weinroth said he had received calls critical that the commission had not approved a budget at the rollback rate.

“The answer is because property values here in Palm Beach County continue to rise, there will be an increase in the amount of money the county is going to receive as a result of this budget that we’re going to approve,” Weinroth said. “It’s important to understand that we’re living within our means because we’re not increasing millage. The only amount that we’re increasing is the amount that the properties have increased.”

All resolutions concerning the budget were approved 6-0 with Commissioner Mary Lou Berger absent.