Certainly learned plenty about Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s personal pay Wednesday, didn’t we?
We learned he isn’t adding $24,000 to his salary because he feels like it.
Turns out this gift — and, my what a generous one! —- comes from the Legislature. I’ll return to that momentarily.
That it took me a day to simply find the meaning behind a single line item in the sheriff’s budget is an indicator of what others have said: This budget is not easily read or understood by people who actually pay attention to such things.
County commissioners are also perplexed by some of the offerings in the sheriff’s budget message, and thus have sent the sheriff a letter with 17 specific questions that I’m sure he will be happy to answer in detail once Floral City digs out from that July snowstorm.
The letter from Randy Oliver to Prendergast reads: “The Board of County Commissioners wants to assure you that they are committed to the support of law enforcement; however, they also realize these are difficult and challenging times financially for our citizens. Consequently, the Board is trying to balance the needs of law enforcement against the challenges our citizens face to put food on the table and gas in their vehicles.”
Here are some of the questions:
You get the idea.
Commissioners are our last line of defense in making sure the sheriff’s budget passes muster. And, by golly, they’re on it.
But it may be futile.
Here’s why: The same state law that gave Prendergast a hefty pay raise also gave him authority over the inner workings of his budget once the board approves it.
First off, the pay raise. Seriously, what the heck? The Legislature, in a bill designed to recruit more law enforcement to the state, bumped the pay for elected sheriffs by $23,595. Because we all know how difficult it is attracting politicians to run for sheriff.
The pay raise moved Prendergast’s salary immediately from $146,033 to $169,628. A 16% pay increase simply for lucky timing. (With all the talk about this bill and the need to attract law officers to Florida, I never once heard a word about elected sheriffs getting a windfall.)
With the $2,000 constitutional officer’s annual certification bonus (passing Go), that brings Prendergast to $171,628. He’s budgeting a salary of $181,926 with, I’m guessing, the presumption the state’s going to bump that number even higher. He’s probably right but not that much.
Believe it or not, that ginormous pay raise isn’t the worst part of this law.
It also allows sheriffs to move funds from within their budgets without the county commission say-so.
Budget transfers are very common and they’re also very public. Some department gets a budget in October with $500 for pencils, then decides halfway through the year to spend it instead on, say, oh, neighborhood road resurfacing. That budget transfer goes to the county commission.
It’s routine fare. I don’t recall the last time anyone questioned one.
But despite the county commission’s detailed concerns about the sheriff’s budget, this law says he can do what he pleases once the county approves it. He may tell the county in June one thing, but when the fiscal year starts Oct. 1, it’s the sheriff’s alone to oversee.
That puts commissioners in a difficult position.
They can gripe all they want about this, that and the other. But the only thing commissioners control is the TOTAL amount, not the details.
Until that happens, commissioners have questions. They’re our questions. We await the answers.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.