On Jan. 23, Santa Rosa’s new sheriff Bob Johnson will go before the board to ask for nearly $1.8 million in raises for his deputies trying to fulfill the promise he made to his officers at his swearing in ceremony.
The reasoning Johnson says is the stark difference in pay between Santa Rosa and other Florida counties, an issue he has been voicing for several months.
County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson has put forward an agenda item for the board to raise Santa Rosa deputy’s salaries by 10 percent, amounting to roughly $1.8 million, to bring their salaries closer to those of neighboring counties.
Williamson made this announcement during a special meeting of the Tourism Development Committee board during discussions of adding additional tourism staff to the county payroll.
“It was brought up to me by Chairman Williamson,” Johnson said. “He asked ‘what do you need to get your pay commiserate with other counties?’ I told him we would need a 20 percent increase, and he said ‘I want you to come before the [Board of County Commissioners] and tell us what you need.’”
Williamson also stated that the starting wage for deputies should be raised to roughly $35,000 to put them on par with neighboring Escambia County.
Johnson said the low pay has actually impeded the hiring process.
“It’s still pretty terrible,” Johnson said. “Nobody is going to come over here when they can go one county over (Okaloosa County) and make $8,500 more a year to start.”
Williamson said he also wants merit scale raises for county staff across the board. County pay scales are setup on a step ladder system with the first five raises being 5 percent and subsequent raises being 2.5 percent explained public information specialist Sarah Whitfield.
That averages out to roughly a 3.75 raise.
“I have been working on ways- not only compensation- ways outside of compensation, to better retain talent that we are losing to other counties and municipalities,” Williamson said. “Those of us who are small-business owners know how important it is to retain and attract talent.”
But the money for that has to come from somewhere.
Though the sheriff’s office budget for 2017 accounts for nearly 35 percent of the counties expected expenditures, the raises themselves would only account for about 1.5 percent of the county’s total revenue.
Adding in raises for the county staff (averaging to 3.75 percent) brings the total to roughly $2.9 million or 5.4 percent of non-personnel expenses.
Williamson told news sources he will propose a 5 percent cut across the board to non-personnel expenses to account for the gap.
Johnson said it is a matter of prioritize the safety of citizens.
“We have to get a fundamental shift in how commissioners prioritize these funds. We can’t keep kicking the can down the road for someone else to deal with,” he said. “I know all five County Commissioners care deeply about the county. It’s my job to tell them what I need to protect the citizens of Santa Rosa County. We can have all the parks in the world, but what good are they if people don’t feel safe to go to them.”
He pointed out that he was denied permission to hire on two new deputies last year while the library was approved for two new positions.
Still when asked about giving up 5 percent of the rest of his budget, Johnson said the sheriff’s office has given up enough. Cut backs to the overtime pay pool and a reimbursement to the county from last year’s budget of $438,000 were examples he gave.
Johnson said even with the raises, the sheriff’s office still has less than half the deputies needed.
“FBI research says in counties with a population of 150,000 to 200,000, they should average 2.7 officers per thousand citizens,” he said. “If we were equal to that we would have 432 officers. Currently we have 192. That puts us at 1.2 officers per thousand citizens.”
But he said this would be a first step.
“That at least would get qualified people applying,” he said. “I have a meeting with a gentleman today who is leaving. They are trying to provide for their families. Why stay here when they can get paid better somewhere else?”
Financial totals in this story are based on the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office itemized 2017 budget and the Santa Rosa County 2017 approved budget.
As seen in the Jan. 19 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.