Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando commissioners express reservations about sheriff's request for raises

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is worried about employee morale and retention after a four-year pay freeze.

Chris Price | Special to the Times (2012)

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is worried about employee morale and retention after a four-year pay freeze.

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is worried about his workforce.

For the last four years, Sheriff's Office employees have endured a pay freeze. Going that long without a reward for hard work and experience damages morale and makes it more likely that good people will leave for higher-paying agencies, the sheriff contends. As the economy shows signs of improving, it's time to thaw the freeze.

"There is light on the horizon,'' he said.

But Nienhuis will have to convince county commissioners, who view his timing as problematic.

The $41.07 million budget that Nienhuis submitted Friday for 2013-14 includes $700,000 for pay raises for the agency's roughly 511 employees.

"It is no secret that retaining good, trained, experienced employees is much more cost effective and better for our community as it relates to the difficult and dangerous job of protecting our citizens," Nienhuis wrote to commissioners. "Maintaining competitive salaries is one of the factors to success in this endeavor."

On the same day Nienhuis submitted his budget, Property Appraiser John Emerson released his preliminary estimate of property values. While the news wasn't as grim as the last few years, when values declined significantly, there was enough of a dip that it will cost the county another $1.7 million in tax revenue for the general fund.

Added to the drying up of grant money for such things as library services, budgets built on nonrecurring funding sources and the depletion of excess reserves, the county is facing at least a $7.1 million shortfall for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

That doesn't count increases requested by the constitutional officers, including the sheriff's $1.2 million increase.

County commissioners say they aren't sure they want to foot the bill for pay raises for Sheriff's Office employees, even though the employees haven't seen increases in several years.

"That goes for county employees as well,'' said commission Chairman Dave Russell. "It's going to be difficult for us to accommodate the sheriff with his request for raises.''

Commissioner Nick Nicholson said he was looking at the sheriff's budget with a critical eye.

"He's been asking for raises,'' Nicholson said. "I told him that, as far as I'm concerned, that's not going to happen.''

Commissioner Jim Adkins said he wasn't sure where the next cuts in the county's budget could be made and is not happy that the Legislature and governor passed on to the county more of the costs for employee benefits.

The sheriff needs $760,000 more just to pay for those benefits.

"It's going to be interesting to see what takes place,'' Adkins said.

Nicholson didn't have an answer either, but said he wasn't interested in talking about a tax increase. Still, he called the county's current staffing level threadbare and wasn't sure where else the county could cut.

"I don't want to raise taxes. I don't want to do that,'' Nicholson said. "How do we get the sheriff to cut his budget? I don't know, but something has got to give.''

As a businessman, Russell has been reluctant to raise the property tax rate. This year, however, he said he believes the commission may have to consider raising the rate while continuing to seek cost savings and efficiencies.

Since the commission cut the tax rate in 2007, Hernando taxpayers have received $108 million in tax relief, not even considering the effect of lower property values to which tax rates are applied, Russell said.

"This commission has done everything it can to keep millage rates as low as possible,'' he said. "There's no more cushion, no more reserve. . . . We're at the point where the rubber meets the road.''

In his letter, Nienhuis said he plans to return enough money from his current budget to cover the cost of the raises while still giving back to the county $477,000 in civil fees.

Instead of an across-the-board raise, Nienhuis plans a tiered approach to reward employees based on their experience and time on the job.

In an interview with the Times, Nienhuis said the increases would range from 2 percent to 6 percent. Employees who have been with the agency through the duration of the pay freeze would receive the biggest bump. The increases would take effect on the employee's anniversary date.

"All I'm trying to do is move them up in their pay grade a little bit and give credit for their seniority," he said.

In his letter, Nienhuis touts his efforts to save money: His fuel budget will remain static. Organizational changes have saved about $100,000. Using inmates to clean roadways and for other tasks saved about $1.2 million this fiscal year.

Nienhuis said it's too early to let a projected shortfall of revenue for the county kill his proposal for raises.

"I think talking about a deficit is way premature and maybe unnecessarily controversial," he said. "There's not a deficit until your revenues are less than your expenditures."

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434. Tony Marrero can be reached at or (352) 848-1431.

Hernando commissioners express reservations about sheriff's request for raises 06/04/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 4, 2013 5:29pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Buccaneers defense was among NFL's best when its pressure got to the QB


    It doesn't matter how many times they've thrown a football. It doesn't matter how many seasons they've played. It doesn't matter whether they have a degree from Harvard or Central Florida.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy recorded 6.5 sacks last season, but many of his other contributions didn't show up in the box scores. [ANDRES LEIVA   |   Times]

  2. What you need to know for Thursday, June 29


    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    See that thing in the water? No? That's the point. It's that time of the year when stingrays are often lurking in the sand, often not visibly. Remember to do the stingray shuffle if you're out at the beach this weekend. [JIM DAMASKE | Times]
  3. Pinellas beaches seeing fewer injuries from stingrays, but the summer is still young


    FORT DE SOTO — Rebecca Glidden leaned back in her lifeguard chair, watching behind sunglasses as families splashed in the water at Fort De Soto's North Beach.

    A Clearwater water safety supervisor demonstrates the stingray shuffle. Pinellas beaches are reporting relatively few injuries from stingrays so far this year, but they anticipate more as the summer wears on. Officials are reminding beachgoers to do the shuffle when they enter the water and keep an eye out for purple flags flying from the lifeguard towers, which indicate stingray activity. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  4. Weeki Wachee River advocates agree to work to resolve issues

    Local Government

    WEEKI WACHEE — Degradation of the Weeki Wachee River is a complex mix of circumstances, with a variety of jurisdictions holding the authority to fix the problems. That has made finding solutions over the years more about frustration than success.

    A boat and kayak drift into one another as they share the narrow passage near Rogers Park on the Weeki Wachee River in March. Advocates fear too many vessels are damaging the river.
  5. Despite change in Cuba policy, cruise ships sail on


    TAMPA -- It's smooth sailing for cruises from Tampa to Havana, with the first of Carnival Cruise Line's 12 such excursions launching today, two months after Royal Caribbean's initial voyage from Port Tampa Bay to the island.

    The Empress of the Seas cruise ship docks at the Port Tampa Bay Cruise Terminal 3 in Tampa. President Donald 

Trump's new Cuba policy may not hurt cruises to Havana at all. In fact, it may help these cruises. CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times