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Sheriff's budget request features hefty pay raises
By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2000
CLEARWATER -- The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is asking for a $13.8-million increase in its budget next year to hire 110 new employees, provide better inmate health care and increase employee salaries so they are comparable with other public agencies.
Sheriff Everett Rice presented his $162.4-million budget request to county commissioners Tuesday afternoon. That amount represents a 9.3 percent increase over this year's budget.
Commissioners asked Rice to trim about $1.3-million from his proposal, which would bring the budget increase down to 8.4 percent, more in keeping with previous years.
"The arrests are up. There are more people in jail. The public expects more," Rice said. "All that stuff adds up."
Rice said after his presentation that he did not know what cuts he would make, but he promised the money would not come from the $4.9-million needed for salary adjustments.
A salary study completed this year indicated that Sheriff's Office employees, particularly support staff such as clerks and radio operators, were underpaid compared to those in other law enforcement agencies and Pinellas County departments, Rice said.
Raises proposed for those employees run as high as 24 percent, according to figures provided by the Sheriff's Office. That is in addition to 5 percent merit increases employees would get next year.
Rice also wants to hire 110 new employees, 52 to staff a new jail addition and 58 to serve in a variety of sheriff's office positions, including traffic enforcement, community policing, criminal investigations and school safety.
In November, the county assumed control of medical care at the jail after deciding it could do the job better and cheaper than private companies. The county spent about $6.6-million to provide that care, but the program was consistently understaffed, Rice said.
Fewer than 100 employees provided that care even though the jail has 155 positions dedicated to that purpose. Fully staffed, the jail will need $9.1-million to run the medical program in the coming budget year, Rice said.
The increase pays for the rising costs of medicine, hospital stays, mental health care and salaries, Rice said. It would cost between $7-million and $10-million to hire a private company to provide the care, he said.
"Hiring and keeping good nurses to work in a jail is not an easy thing to do. Every time somebody dies, it's as if it's the nurses' fault or the sheriff's fault. Morale's bad," Rice said. "People who get locked in that jail, many of them are sick. They haven't taken care of themselves. We can't ignore their health like they did. They need a lot of health care."
Not included in the budget request is money needed to investigate child abuse claims, a duty previously handled by the Florida Department of Children and Families. The Sheriff's Office took over that responsibility this year as part of a pilot program.
The state paid the Sheriff's Office $6.3-million to accomplish that task, but Rice said his office needs at least $7.6-million in the coming year. If the state does not make up the difference, the county will consider handing the job back over to DCF, he said.
"I just can't in good faith take on that job ... without them paying for it," he said. "Children's safety is at issue here. Who's going to handle that?"
"You're absolutely right, Everett," Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd said. "They either pay you for what you're doing or let them do it."
Where increases are
Pinellas County Sheriff Everett Rice has asked for $162.4-million to run the Sheriff's Office and the jail for the budget year that starts Oct. 1. That is an increase of $13.8-million, or 9.3 percent, over this year's budget. Here is a breakdown of the increases:
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