Copyright 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

By Staff Writer

Sheriff Ed Bieluch will hire at least 26 deputies to patrol poor neighborhoods and do it without adding a penny to his proposed $272 million budget, he told county commissioners Thursday. Most commissioners at the budget hearing said they liked that idea, tentatively approving the spending plan, which previously called for no new patrol deputies.

Commission Chairwoman Karen Marcus, however, voted no. She said she wonders how the sheriff was able to quickly find about $2.7 million needed for the new hires.

She suggested the commission reject Bieluch’s request for a 6 percent increase over last year’s budget and keep that money until it’s needed.

The commissioners, who are scheduled to adopt their budget Sept. 22, have a fractious relationship with Bieluch. They frequently question his spending practices, including the purchase of a half-million-dollar mobile command center and a $2 million helicopter.

Bieluch said little during the meeting. “I feel comfortable with the increase of 26 deputies,” he said.

“I’m thinking you need more,” Marcus said.

“We’d be willing to take more,” Bieluch responded.

Commissioners want the sheriff to sign an agreement that the 26 officers would be stationed only in specific crime-ridden neighborhoods in central Palm Beach County, particularly Kenwood Estates East on Military Trail south of 10th Avenue, Wallis Street West on Southern Boulevard east of Jog Road and Canal Point in the Glades area.

Commissioner Burt Aaronson asked the sheriff to look into how much it would cost to hire an additional 14 deputies to patrol other areas and return to the next hearing with a cost breakdown. Each new deputy costs about $103,000, including salary and a patrol car.

George Forman, the sheriff’s administrative officer, said the costs would not come all at once, since the hiring would be gradual.

He said the department already has applied for a federal grant for 13 additional deputies.

Several residents from a group called Citizens for a Sound Economy were at the meeting to ask commissioners to reduce waste and cut the overall budget by 10 percent.

They suggested cuts in funding for the arts, parks and mass transit.

The county’s proposed $3.1 billion budget represents a 10 percent increase over last year’s budget.

The tax rate will remain at $4.50 per $1,000 of taxable value. The county has been able to collect more property tax because of the soaring real estate market.

The owner of a $200,000 house with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay about $787 for the year beginning Oct. 1.

“This wasn’t about seeing how much money we can spend,” Commissioner Tony Masilotti said. “This is about making Palm Beach County a better place to live.”

Prashant Gopal can be reached at or 561-243-6602.

Sheriff Ed Bieluch said hiring 26 officers to patrol crime-ridden neighborhoods would not add to his $272 million budget proposal.