SEBRING - Highlands County commissioners got an early Halloween treat on Tuesday, a $628,329 check from Highlands Sheriff Susan Benton.
It was no trick; the unexpended funds came from 13 sources, including grants that were not spent, bulletproof vests not purchased, and Avon Park policing and E-911 operations.
"I don't want you to have heart failure when you see the numbers on the check," Benton said. "I see you smiling already, Commissioner Elwell."
Benton said part of the money was saved by delaying the hiring of new personnel. "We went without 27 positions filled for a long, long time. We're down probably nine deputies right now, and that's pretty significant, because it's kicking the overtime budget on the other side."
Lt. Jim McGann introduced a new drug dog, Lady, who takes the place of the retired Ringo.
"She is a single-purpose dog. All she does is dope," said McGann. Lady routinely checks each cell block in the jail, and also works inside school buildings and parking lots.
A school resource officer is assigned to each middle and high school, and deputies also checked the security plans of each school and shared that information with the school board, Benton said. The information helps schools deal with a possible shooting on campus or a missing child.
Reviewing the past fiscal year, Benton said 122,704 people passed through security stations, 4,501 inmates were escorted to court, 6,823 civil warrants were served, 2,255 people were fingerprinted, 188,135 telephone calls were answered, 46,806 E-911 calls were answered, 12,093 offense reports were taken, 13,117 pieces of property were placed in evidence, 4,534 citations were issued. Deputies responded to 152 Neighborhood Watch calls, booked 4,431 inmates and released 3,963 inmates, kept 78 inmates for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and collected $168,545 in fees.
"I think this next number is pretty significant," Benton said. If inmates who work in yard and maintenance crews were paid minimum wages, they saved the county $1,165,019.
Every deputy is being cross trained in crime prevention, Benton said. "It's one thing for a deputy to go out to your house and take a report, but now they can just take an extra five or 10 minutes, and tell you about the windows and the high bushes, and how those crime prevention techniques might help."
Finally, Benton said, every current deputy and new hires must take a timed physical abilities test. For instance, they must exit a patrol car, run through an obstacle course, shoot at targets, drag a 170-pound dummy and return to the vehicle.
"It's going to be pretty intense," Benton said. "We're getting it laid out now."
The board approved next year's 11-day holiday schedule, which includes Rosh Hashanah, Thanksgiving and Christmas Thursdays, and the Fridays after.