JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Sheriff John Rutherford is one step closer to getting his money back after a City Council finance committee unanimously approved restoring $27 million to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office budget on Thursday.
Under the measure, the city would restore $20 million to JSO, allowing Rutherford to keep more than $7 million in savings from this year into the upcoming budget.
How to fill that $20 million is still a big question at City Hall. Council will have to make deep cuts in other departments, but that likely won't be enough.
Thursday's vote, according to many council leaders, solidified the fact that a tax hike is coming for Jacksonville homeowners.
"It's not really an easy choice, but I don't see really where there's actually a choice because we can't leave people unprotected. If you prioritize, you have to put public safety first," said City Council President Bill Gulliford.
Soon-to-be father, Dustin Bell, said he's willing to pay more in taxes to ensure the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office has the resources it needs to curb crime in the River City.
"For me, being a family person, I like the safety aspect so I agree with spending a little extra to keep myself and my family safe," said Bell.
Mayor Alvin Brown submitted a budget that called for more than $27 million in unspecified cuts to the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office.
Rutherford had asked City Council to restore all funding, or he will have to lay off 381 police officers and eliminate related vehicle and equipment costs. That would add up to about $22.8 million in savings.
Rutherford also said JSO would be forced to close the Community Transition Center, an in-jail drug treatment program that employs 60 corrections officers. Rutherford said Jacksonville's drop in violent crime is creeping back up after what he calls "drastic budget cuts" in recent years.
"This is a tale of two cities," he said. There was little debate over handing millions over to JSO.
"I couldn't believe that we could go forward with those kind of cuts," said Gulliford. "It's totally unrealistic. You can't leave the city unprotected."
Jacksonville's top cop told Action News he now has what he needs to maintain current public safety levels.
"I'm still 147 officers down," said Rutherford. "I'm still 92 community service officers down. We're just not laying any more off. That's why when you say 'Did you get what you want?' Heck no, I want those 147 officers back and I want those 92 CSOs back."
The measure will have to be approved by the full Jacksonville City Council. It has until Sept. 30 to create a balanced budget.