Hendry County BOCC passes budget, millage;

The only person to speak at Hendry County’s final budget hearing Tuesday, Oct. 3, was Sheriff Steve Whidden, who rose to ask, “I was just wondering if the commission had given any further thought to the two deputies I requested.”

Vice Chairman Darrell Harris told him, “Not unless it’s in the numbers that they balanced the budget with,” referring to County Administrator Charles Chapman and Budget Director Jennifer Davis. Since commissioners have been discussing the 2018 budget for many months, others’ recollections were a bit foggy.

Chairman Michael Swindle said the sheriff had requested eight originally (Mr. Whidden corrected him that it was four), and that then the commissioners decided to put two in the budget, anticipating a possible state matching grant. Commissioner Karson Turner said he remembered there were to be “four, two on each side of the county,” to be designated as narcotics enforcers but that “I don’t think that we ever agreed toward that with regard to budget.” “Correct,” said Ms. Davis.

“The best I can remember is that the only way we could’ve funded any,” said Chairman Swindle, “was to increase the millage, and I don’t believe any of the five of us were in favor of doing that, not that we don’t support the need for narcotics intervention, more deputies, more boots on the ground.”

“So you’ll give me six next year?” Sheriff Whidden asked jovially. “If you can do it within the budget,” Mr. Swindle replied, to laughter.

County commissioners then voted 5-0 for a motion by Mr. Harris, seconded by Commissioner Emma Byrd, to approve the budget in the amount of $70,501,029. Earlier, commissioners had voted 4-0, with Commissioner Karson Turner absent, to set the county’s property tax rate, or millage, at $8.4909 per $1,000 assessed valuation.

After the budget vote, Mr. Turner, who was late due to another meeting and bad weather, said: “I just want to apologize for missing the vote. I still stand by what I said, that we should have implemented the rollback rate this year, and had I been here for both those votes, I would have voted against the millage being locked at 8.4909 and I would’ve voted against the budget as is. I just hope that next year we’ll really do everything in our power to sharpen up those pencils and try to pull that within … if we’re able to get another increase in our values.”

Mr. Swindle agreed. “I hope that we’re able to next year. I hope that financially that it’s a no-brainer discussion.”

Commissioners also voted 5-0 on Mr. Turner’s motion with a second from Mr. Harris to ratify the submission of a grant application to Enterprise Florida for financing a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Patrol Facility at Airglades Airport.

A final unanimous vote approved staff moving forward on an emergency basis with roof repairs at the Florida Department of Health’s LaBelle office due to damage from Hurricane Irma, waiving the county requirement that large projects be put out for competitive bidding.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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