BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis is asking for a $1.7 million increase for his 2014-15 budget — an amount he says is necessary to keep pace with public safety concerns in a community that has begun to take a positive turn economically.
In his budget request submitted to the County Commission on Friday, Nienhuis asks for eight new positions and for the return of unspent dollars from the current fiscal year so he can continue to phase in pay raises. He started that process this year to make up for pay structure inequities that resulted from several years of frozen salaries.
To retain and recruit staff, the budget also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for personnel below the rank of lieutenant.
Nienhuis said employee retention is of the utmost importance.
"When I have somebody who has a few years of experience, it's very important to me to keep those people," he said. "A four-year deputy is much more valuable to the citizens than a brand-new deputy."
Figuring that the county, as it has in the past, will return to him unspent funds from this year, Nienhuis said his budget request represents only a 2 percent increase over this year. In real dollars, the sheriff is seeking $42,760,940 from the county — a 4 percent increase over the request for 2013-14.
"I think the amount of dollars I'm looking for from the general fund is pretty small," he said. The new positions that the sheriff proposes to add include: one animal services officer, to allow expanded services on the weekend; two school resource officers, who will largely be paid for by the School Board; two dispatchers, positions cut from his budget in recent years; two detention deputies to begin to staff the new juvenile area at the jail, and a network support technician.
Cost cutting has continued in the current fiscal year, he said, including the sale of a NOTAR helicopter. Now all aircraft in the aviation unit are surplus military aircraft that come with lower operating and training costs.
Nienhuis also notes that jail inmates provided 147,000 hours on county projects during the past year, a value of $1.5 million.