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Sheriff seeks to up deputy salaries

In his final year in office, Sheriff Everett Rice wants to raise sworn officers' pay checks by $3,000 per deputy.

MICHAEL SANDLER
Published June 9, 2004

CLEARWATER - For the second consecutive year, Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice is seeking a budget increase of more than $20-million as part of a plan to make deputies' salaries more competitive.

Rice on Tuesday presented county commissioners with a $224-million preliminary budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, nearly $50-million more than his budget two years ago.

Most of the new money is directed toward his deputies. Rice is seeking another $3,000 salary bump for each sworn officer - the third since July 2003 - and merit raises of 4.9 percent for those who qualify.

With the increases, a starting deputy's salary would be $36,705 with the top salary $55,075.

That's up from last year, when a study Rice commissioned showed the starting pay of $29,000 was among the lowest for law enforcement officers in the area.

"The biggest single factor is the pay plan," Rice said.

The sheriff provides law enforcement services to the county's unincorporated residents and 10 municipalities that contract with his office. He also manages the county jail and provides some services, such as court security, countywide.

Over the past two years, the sheriff's budget has grown to be the largest single expense commissioners consider. This year's budget is just under $204-million. The previous year it was $175 million.

Nearly 84 percent of the sheriff's budget covers personnel expenses for more than 2,800 employees. That includes 893 sworn law enforcement officers and 826 detention deputies.

Sheriff's deputies voted to unionize last year, selecting the Fraternal Order of Police to represent them.

Rice has said this will be his last term and recently announced his plans to seek the state house seat being vacated by Rep. Donald Sullivan (R-Largo).

On Tuesday Rice was accompanied by Chief Deputy Jim Coats, who is running to replace Rice as sheriff.

"We were behind the curve for several years," Coats said of the salary issue. "We are just catching up."

Rice also has asked for 10 new school crossing guards, four new school resource officers and 16 new employees for the jail, a sheriff's office spokesman said.

County Administrator Steve Spratt has plans to meet with Rice this month so they can see where some costs can be trimmed.

County Commission Chairwoman Susan Latvala said the budget did not come as a surprise.

"This is the back end of the salary increases," Latvala said. "We knew that was coming."

- Michael Sandler can be reached at 727 445-4162 or sandler@sptimes.com

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