Warning: Today’s blog contains explicit government language. Reader discretion is advised.
Wednesday was one of those days when my focus changed halfway through the afternoon. Fortunately, I was able to save the concept.
First though, some news:
During a video conference call Wednesday with the Department of Justice, it was determined that the COPS grant contract does not require Commission Chairman Holly Davis’ signature.
It was an odd bone of contention during Tuesday’s board meeting when everyone seemed surprised that a COPS grant they all agreed to in May was now coming to fruition with a healthy price tag.
Sheriff Mike Prendergast and Col. Elena Vitt pushed hard that Davis needed to sign the contract. They claimed the DOJ required it, but the county attorney said that wasn’t the case.
(I wrote in my notes: “Doesn’t the sheriff have a lawyer?” It’s a contract that could add 43 deputies to the force and cost taxpayers millions of dollars they hadn’t planned to spend right away. I mean… I called my attorney when I thought a bully lawyer was going to cancel my 65th birthday open house. Guess it depends on need.)
Davis said from the outset she didn’t want to sign it because the feds would hold her personally responsible if the information she was attesting to wasn’t true. The sheriff’s office provides all that information, so there’s no way for Davis to know its accuracy.
The sheriff was trying to force her hand with this supposed DOJ rule that the chairman had to sign it. The County Commission passed an odd motion — if it turned out the sheriff was correct, Davis would sign IF she wanted to. Commissioner Diana Finegan, pointing out the open-ended vagueness of allowing Davis to choose on her own whether to commit the county to the grant, voted no.
The video call with all the players confirmed the county’s position, getting the chairman officially off the hook. Davis also said she wouldn’t have signed anything without specific board support; DOJ would have given the county a 45-day extension for everyone to get his/her ducks in a row.
Let’s shift our focus to the grant.
It pays a portion of the salary/benefits for up to 43 deputies over three years. The feds pay around $5.3 million. The county’s match is three times that, plus a whole lot of other costs the grant doesn’t cover.
As several Just Wright Citrus readers noted Wednesday this seems like a really good deal for the county. Yeah it’s a lot of money in a short timeframe if the sheriff is actually able to fill all those slots. But c’mon… it’s 43 new deputies in a growing county.
The cry for neighborhood law enforcement is at a higher pitch now than I’ve ever seen. Rarely a week goes by that I don’t see in the commissioner’s email a constituent complaining about speeders or 3-wheelers on their streets. They all get the same response from the sheriff’s office: We don’t have the manpower to come out.
The rubber’s about to meet the road here, folks. And that’s why Commissioner Rebecca Bays’ idea for an MSTU to pay for these deputies is right on the mark.
MSTU — Municipal Services Taxing Unit. An MSTU is a property tax for a specific purpose. It drops the overall tax rate by shifting it in some fashion to an MSTU. It’s like a tax trust fund.
Here’s why Bays’ idea works: Because it is a special, one-use-only tax, she believes it would force the sheriff to go public to explain why he needs it. That’s a bold move, and it hasn’t been done around these parts. Coinciding that with the 2024 elections makes it even more worthwhile.
There’s quite a government process to travel before we get there, but I wanted to introduce you to “MSTU” right now. It’ll be a regular here at Just Wright Citrus starting in January along, of course, with his drunk cousin, MSBU.
Happy to help. I’m just that kind of guy.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.