It wasn’t exactly a promise but the sheriff took it that way.
Back in late summer, county commissioners were looking for ways to trim Sheriff Mike Prendergast’s $40 million budget and they zeroed in on the request for more deputies.
They were OK with increasing pay for deputies and 911 dispatchers, but they drew the line at hiring another 22 officers.
The reason? Prendergast had 13 openings. Why should the county create more deputy positions when the sheriff couldn’t fill what he had?
So they made him a pledge: Fill your current law enforcement positions, then come back for more.
That’s exactly what happened and exactly what the sheriff is doing.
He’s asking for 22 new deputies at a cost of $2.6 million. And he’d like them by April 1.
The county doesn’t make a habit of dropping loose change in the sofa cushions. So it’s a little mysterious if it has a dime budgeted for a new deputy.
Last year the Legislature was in the process of bumping pay for state law enforcement, such as highway patrol troopers. That same legislation increased the salaries of county sheriffs by $23,595.
Prendergast came to the county commission looking for more pay for deputies and dispatchers to compete with surrounding counties. We’ve all seen his billboards enticing new hires.
The board was OK with a pay bump but not new deputies. Commissioners told Prendergast they’d listen to him, even during the current budget year, if all the openings were filled.
Prendergast, in a March 1 letter to County Administrator Steve Howard, said the positions are filled and there’s a waiting list to get hired in the CCSO.
“The support received by the BOCC in raising the starting pay of our deputies…cannot be understated. It is greatly appreciated by the men and women of the CCSO and is clearly the catalyst in achieving our recruiting goals,” he wrote.
He said “tax revenues have increased,” suggesting the county now has the funds to hire more deputies and pay them well.
Prendergast made the county-is-growing pitch.
“We must act now to fill the needs today and posture ourselves for a successful future,” he wrote.
This will be our first chance to see Prendergast deal with a county commission that doesn’t include Ron Kitchen Jr., a true thorn of the neck to the sheriff every budget year.
Prendergast will find a much friendlier commission. Commissioner Rebecca Bays seems the only stickler for details on a budget ledger.
Not sure if he’ll find a friendlier administration. We haven’t seen much of County Administrator Steve Howard or his budget process.
He does refer to funding as a challenge, calling them “F-bombs.”
Meaning, we can give the sheriff all he wants but where does all that funding come from?
The sheriff’s office and county commission have a problem, one with which they combined created. The sheriff wants to hire more deputies. The county has an immediate issue of paying for it.
I realize Prendergast’s demeanor isn’t warm and fuzzy, and his budget proposals often resemble a pyramid scheme, but he doesn’t seem out of line here.
He did exactly what the county commission told him to do. He filled the current positions and is coming back for more.
And he isn’t stopping there. Prendergast said he’ll ask the board for funding to pay for 15 more deputy positions next year and 11 the year after that.
Prendergast is just the first. There will be others, either constitutional officers or the county staff, looking for more money for personnel or programs. What you’d expect in a growing county.
How we pay for it, that’s the question. Higher taxes? More fees? Special assessment?
The chat has just begun.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 36 years.