AVON PARK — The City Council is starting to look at the long-term budget trends and needs of the city, including the cost of law enforcement coverage by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

Councilman Stanley Spurlock had requested information on the cost that each resident is paying, including the county tax rate, for law enforcement services from the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office.

Under the current contract, Avon Park is paying this year $1.338 million for the Sheriff’s Office’s additional coverage within the city limits as specified in the contract.

City Finance Director Rick Helms used two different methods to calculate the per resident cost, City Manager David Flowers said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

Funding per resident using population percentage is $290.

Funding per resident using taxable value percentage is $214.

Flowers noted that there is a large percentage of residents who don’t pay anything because they are exempt from or don’t have property taxes.

Councilwoman Maria Sutherland said she is concerned how sustainable it will be to do this if the Avon Park property tax rate remains at 30 mils.

“At what point does the 3% [annual] increase in the sheriff’s contract get to the point where we will have to start making decisions on what to cut so we can keep funding the sheriff,” she said.

Sutherland hoped that some cost projections could be done to determine where the city will be in five to 10 years to see where they could save or start raising taxes.

“It just seems like we are starting to see the effects of the skeleton economy that we were in, in terms of what we were budgeting in the past, and now we are starting to pay the price,” she said.

Flowers said he had a conversation earlier Monday with Sheriff’s Col. Mike Brown concerning the city’s contract with the Sheriff’s Office.

The city will go with the standard 3% increase in the contract, he said. The Sheriff’s Office provided information on having an extra patrol deputy and extra sergeant in this area — it is not cheap, Flowers said, but the Sheriff’s Office is prepared to discuss it with the City Council.

The city’s current contract with the Sheriff’s Office expires Sept. 30, Flowers said. The Sheriff’s Office is looking at a longer contract if the city wants to increase the number of sheriff’s personnel in Avon Park.

Deputy Mayor Jim Barnard said if they add one patrol officer for Avon Park there should be no need to add a sergeant because the sheriff’s department’s north office is in the city’s former police department.

Sheriff’s Major Darin Hood said if one more deputy was added in the area there would have to be another supervisor/sergeant who would be dedicated to the City of Avon Park.

Sutherland said if the current contract rolls over, the city will have a year and a half to discuss its options with the Sheriff’s Office.

Hood said there is a demand for services in Avon Park so it definitely needs to be discussed for the future.

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