Over the last year, Orlando residents have faced a massive 17.7% property tax increase, substantial cuts to public services and an across-the-board 4.5% cut for every city department to close the city’s ongoing budget crisis. After years of mismanagement and out of control spending from Mayor Buddy Dyer and the rubber stamp City Council, new public records indicate the wasting of taxpayer dollars impacts every part of the overall budget, including the Orlando Police Department’s budget. In fact, Commissioner Regina Hill’s costs are so high, the city used three different OPD budgets, including budgets covering funding for special investigations and criminal investigations to cover her charges.
Two weeks ago, some City Commissioners started raising serious questions about their fellow Commissioners’ spending habits. Commissioners Robert Stuart and Jim Gray met one-on-one to discuss the ongoing spending issues and Stuart specifically raised concerns about OPD liaison officer charges by other Commissioners.
Each Orlando City Commissioner office is assigned a police officer to serve as an OPD liaison for the districts. These police officers are taken out of their traditional roles in order to serve as liaison officers working for the Commissioners’ office, but all salary and overtime costs are charged to OPD budgets, not the Commissioners’ expense accounts. According to City officials, these police officers make around $73,000/year before overtime pay. In the past, these liaison officers have been the center of controversy as they typically attend public events with or on behalf of their Commissioner or the officers escort and drive Commissioners around town more than they are fighting crime.
In just her first year in office, Commissioner Regina Hill charged taxpayers nearly $15,000 for overtime pay for two of her OPD liaison officers, more than the rest of the entire Orlando City Council combined. The $15,000 in overtime pay is in addition to the police officers’ salary of $35.35/hour, or around $73,000/year, according to the City of Orlando Workday data system.
Police Officer Kevin Williams only served Commissioner Hill for one and a half months, yet he earned almost $4,000 in additional overtime pay for time he spent with Commissioner Hill. Police Officer Christopher Newton earned an additional $10,000 in overtime pay during the last year as Hill’s second liaison officer.
OPD liaison officers for City Commissioners are normally paid using the Crime Prevention budget, which may surprise and irk taxpayers who expect their tax dollars to go towards actually preventing crime. However, Commissioner Hill’s expenses are so high, Hill has forced the City of Orlando to use money from the Police Special Investigations budget and the Criminal Investigations budget to cover her liaison officers’ overtime charges.
The Orlando Police Department budget consumes one-third (33%) of the overall city budget. Taxpayers understand the costs to keep our city safe, but questions are being raised about the use of “Special Investigations” and “Criminal Investigations” budgets to pay for Commissioner Hill’s charges. Is this really an acceptable use of public tax dollars? Should OPD investigations budgets be used in such a manner?
Given the ongoing budget crisis and out of control spending from the City Council, is it time to revisit the idea and cost associated with providing each City Commissioner an OPD liaison officer?
As Commissioner Hill spent nearly $15,000 in overtime costs for two liaison officers, on top of their $73,000 per year salary, the rest of the Orlando City Council spent less than $13,000 combined. To contrast Hill’s high total, Commissioner Stuart, who raised the most concerns on the issue, has only spent $400 on overtime charges for his liaison officer since June 2014.
Other Commissioners also seem to be able to control the additional cost and high overtime payouts for the OPD liaison officers. Commissioner Sheehan only spent about $564 in overtime charges for her officer. Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who served as a district liaison officer for three years before being elected, spent almost $3,000 over the last 14 months. Commissioner Gray spent $3,600 in overtime charges to OPD, while Commissioner Sam Ings spent about $5,300 in the same time period for his liaison officer’s overtime pay.
The numbers show why Hill’s fellow Commissioners are getting concerned about spending habits and the public image of the Orlando City Council. Also, providing six liaison officers for City Commissioners costs OPD almost half a million dollars a year in salary and overtime pay.
Just last month, WFTV 9 Investigates exposed $50,000 that Orlando commissioners spent using city credit cards and public tax dollars. Sadly, the out of control spending without rules is not a new phenomenon when it comes to City of Orlando elected officials.
Last summer, WFTV launched an investigation that questioned “are Orlando Commissioners spending tax dollars like personal slush funds?” Despite our city’s budget deficit and the ongoing local fiscal crisis, City Commissioners are spending $300,000 in public tax dollars with no real rules or accountability. “It’s truly remarkable that City Commissioners continue to spend public tax dollars like it’s their own personal slush fund,” I told WFTV at the time.
It appears several City Commissioners are ready to push for rules or regulations around the spending of public tax dollars by their fellow elected Commissioners – and it is about time considering the tax hikes and service cuts Orlando residents have been forced to endure. Will Mayor Dyer join with concerned residents and Commissioners to reign in the spending?