Sheriff pitches salary increase for deputies

To pay for an estimated $1.6 million increase to Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s deputies’ salaries, County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson proposed Monday that the county pull the money from capital expenditures.

Sheriff Bob Johnson made a presentation to the commissioners during their regular meeting comparing Santa Rosa to other counties.

Currently, deputies in Santa Rosa start out at roughly $4,000-$8,000 less than most neighboring law enforcement offices.

Johnson said FBI statistics say the office should have more than 400 officers based on population. The office currently has less than 200 officers.

“By no means am I advocating that by next year we need to have 432 law enforcement officers,” he said.

Johnson cited an increase in the crime rate from 2015 to 2016 as proof that the county needed to invest in the sheriff’s office now rather than later. He said that Santa Rosa County had fallen from ranking 59 out of 67 counties in crime rate to 53 over the past year with the rate of increase in crime year over year also going up.

According to the numbers he provided, the increase comes from outside the county. These charges included drug possession, assaulting police officers, kidnapping and armed robbery.

In 2015, 20 percent of crimes in Santa Rosa County were committed by individuals who resided outside Santa Rosa County. That number went up to 29.5 percent in 2016.

“Back in 1993 when I started here it was very rare that we arrested anybody outside the county. Now it’s an everyday occurrence,” Johnson said.

The proposed increase would be a 10 percent increase across the board for all sheriffs’ deputies with a bump up for the starting salary to roughly $35,000.

The four commissioners in attendance all spoke in support of the raises.

Commission vice chair Bob Cole proposed a municipal service benefit unit as a way to cover the cost of the raises.

“This is not something we can just tweak the budget for,” he said.

But Williamson said that with the recently passed local option sales tax putting funds in the budget for capital expenditures, the funds currently allocated for those expenditures could be reassigned for the salaries. He said the change would amount to $1.6 million.

“The increase would be budget neutral,” he said. “This is fiscally responsible. This is not taking from one part of the budget to put in another. This is what the local option sales tax is going to provide for us.”

Commissioner Sam Parker agreed.

“That is what we sold to people with that tax,” he said.

The ballot language for the sales tax specified that the funds could not be used for salaries, but it did not specify what capital outlays it had to be applied to. In essence, the additional funds from the local option sales tax would be assigned to existing projects.

The commissioners are expected to vote for staff to begin pursuing the budget changes during their Thursday regular meeting.

As seen in the Jan. 26 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.

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