JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford spoke publicly Thursday, a day after he sent a letter detailing massive layoffs because of budget cuts.
The letter called for eliminating 319 positions, including all 63 community service officers and 58 corrections officers. It also called for the closing of a community transition center.
Rutherford said Jacksonville has to make a decision: Does residents want to keep services as they are and pay the same amount of taxes, or pay less and do with less. He was referring to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office's budget and the layoffs in the department.
The sheriff said these layoffs are just the start. He said with his budget cuts, it means services will now be cut. For example, no longer will JSO investigate traffic accidents on state roads like Beach or Blanding boulevards. It will leave that up to the Florida Highway Patrol.
"That is one place where the public is going to see a cut in service," Rutherford said. "They are going to have to wait for FHP to respond to that crash."
The sheriff said his office will also not be patrolling traffic for Jaguars games and other events at the stadium unless they are paid for it. And the department will eliminate a drug treatment program at the jail.
But Rutherford said all of this can be avoided by all Jacksonville residents paying the same amount in taxes this year as last. It's the rollback rate. While property values have dropped, most residents will pay less in taxes.
But the sheriff said residents need to pay the same to keep what they have.
"I think this is more about what this community needs," Rutherford said. "And at some point someone needs to stand up and tell the community what it needs to hear and not what it wants to hear. And I am telling them what they need to hear. Unless they want these services cut, there is nothing else we can do. They are going to feel it and it's going to impact on our crime numbers."
Rutherford blames much of the cuts on the pension problem facing Jacksonville. The Sheriff's Office will have to pay an additional $27 million out of his budget for the pension.
"It's a problem now and we got to fix it," he said. "It's not this mayor's fault, it's not this council's fault, but it's also not the fault of these men and women in blue uniforms out there and their benefits. It's the way the pension was not funded property in the past."
The mayor said the sheriff's idea of keeping property taxes the same despite lower values would be a tax increase and is opposed to it, but Nelson Cuba, the head of the police union, is backing the sheriff.
"I believe there is still an opportunity here for us to get these changes done," Cuba said. "I think the sheriff is clear he is not advocating any type of tax increase."
John Crescimbeni, the head of the City Council's finance committee, had some harsh words for the sheriff.
"I disagree with the sheriff and question his motives," he said. "He never made mention about a tax increase during his campaign."
The sheriff said that's not the case.
"This is not a tax increase," Rutherford said. "I am asking to keep the tax revenue constant with last year."
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