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LAKELAND, FL (September 10, 2021) – The Lakeland City Commission held the first of two budget hearings for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY22) on Thursday, Sept. 9th.  The City Commission listened to an overview of the budget presented by City Manager Shawn Sherrouse before they voted on the millage rate and the topic of law enforcement body worn cameras as part of the FY22 budget.

Sherrouse stated, “The FY22 budget is built on the following assumptions: General Fund Revenues and Surplus reserves will maintain 45-60 days cash-on-hand going forward to Fiscal Year 2024; the budget would maintain the existing millage rate of 5.4644 mills and controllable expenditures would be held below 1.5%.”  Total revenue for FY22 is set at $762,300,051.  The State of Florida has a balanced budget requirement. A balanced budget occurs when total expenses do not exceed total revenues.

A 5.5644 millage rate was established in 2016 and was reduced to 5.4644 mills in 2019.  The millage rate has been the same for the past few years.  The Lakeland City Commission asked to review what a budget looks like with a 5.4323 millage rate. A millage rate is the tax rate used to calculate local property taxes. The millage rate represents the amount per every $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. Assigned millage rates are applied to the total taxable value of the property to arrive at the property tax amount.

Commissioner Madden made a motion to accept the 5.4323 millage rate and include body worn cameras and in-car systems for the Lakeland Police Department as part of the FY22 budget.  The motion was seconded by Commissioner Walker.  Walker said, “The rollback rate is a win-win and allows us to give back to the community and continue to offer great services.  This budget as presented also allows us to equip our police force with body worn cameras.”

Commissioner Read said, “Body cameras give me an issue as the most conservative one in the group. Our Chief said that we only had 15 issues with the police department this past year where a body worn camera would have been needed to address any issues, and that is out of hundreds of arrests.”

Commissioner McLeod said, “We come into this meeting with a low millage rate compared to many other municipalities in Florida. If we fund body cameras there are future costs that we need to be mindful of going forward.  The biggest thing that gives me pause during this budget is the long-term cost for body cameras.”

Mayor Mutz read from a prepared statement, “In 2018 we listened to the concerns of the community, and we have citizen input to strengthen the tools need for our police department. This budget includes a comprehensive upgrade to aging tasers and in car cameras as well as body worn cameras, and I encourage you to vote in favor of these systems. Here are the compelling reasons why you should vote in favor of body worn cameras: the single most significant is because body worn cameras were requested by citizens. It is the next level of technology by agencies and those who have worn body cameras welcome the use, citizens will have neutral accountability, so we have confidence we are treated fairly.  This investment is not a replacement for current law enforcement services – it is another tool that supports accountability.  Deploying the package is not defunding police but financially supporting them.”

There were several members from the audience who addressed the City Commission at the audience portion of the budget hearing.

Kenneth Glover said, “All the data has been set forth on why we need body cameras. We have been here for four years asking for body cameras.  We are one of the few cities in Florida that doesn’t have body cameras for our police department.”

Terry Coney, President of the Lakeland branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said, “Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  When you ran for office, you used your experience to get people to vote for you. You have fiduciary responsibilities to the public, but you also have the responsibility to do the right thing. Body cameras are an aid for our police force, and I encourage you to consider this in your vote.”

Roberto Leider said, “Taxes are very affordable in this community. I’ve lived in several places all over the globe, and I have never paid less in taxes.  Cameras protect the police, and they protect us.  We pay more for yearly Netflix subscription than we do in taxes.”

Larry Mitchell said, “In my research, I look at the benefits and costs. This is bigger than you – this is in the DNA for us black and brown people.  Get out of your skin and live in our shoes. Body cameras Improve behavior for the citizens and our police force. How can you put a price on that?”

After listening to public comment, the City Commission voted unanimously 7-0 to tentatively approve the 5.4323 millage rate and voted 5-2 to tentatively adopt the FY22 budget that includes new tasers, body worn cameras and in-car systems for the Lakeland Police Department. Commissioner Read and Commissioners Musick were the two dissenting votes.  They both questioned the cost going forward and provided statements on why they voted no.

The second required public hearing on the FY22 budget will be held at 6 p.m. in the City Commission Chambers on Thursday, September 23rd.  This meeting will finalize what millage and budget is adopted by the City Commission for FY22. The first FY22 budget hearing can be viewed in its entirety by visiting: https://vimeo.com/601040349

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