Monday, February 19, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri asks for $15 million more in budget next year

ST. PETERSBURG — This is a tale of two budgets.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri submitted not one, but two 2015 spending plans to the county this week. One hit the $235.6 million target he was given. The second overshot it by $15.3 million.

The difference, Gualtieri said, is the ability to tackle a trio of serious problems facing the agency.

"When I met with the board last year I explained the dire situation with our employee compensation system and its adverse effect on competitive hiring and employee retention; the problems we have been experiencing with postponing capital purchases; and operational issues we are experiencing due to not updating technology or investing in our infrastructure," Gualtieri wrote in a letter to County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel. "Those problems have not been resolved and in fact are worse today than they were a year ago."

Sticking with the lower budget will further exacerbate those problems, he added, saying the second document accurately reflects the agency's needs.

"There aren't any wants in this budget," he said Friday.

Gualtieri declined to provide details until he presents them to the board May 15. He also is scheduled to meet next week with union representatives from the Police Benevolent Association to discuss the proposal.

The largest chunk of the bigger budget is $11.7 million to create a structured pay plan that would raise employee salaries based on their years of experience with the agency. There are deputies who have been with agency for a few months who make the same as five-year veterans, he said.

"We have 1,500 very frustrated deputy sheriffs who are at their wits' end about this pay system here," he said. "It is the No. 1 concern they have and the No. 1 challenge we have in retaining good people and hiring the best new deputies."

The smaller budget includes a 3 percent across-the-board pay increase, but that doesn't solve the problem, Gualtieri said.

His bigger budget includes $1.1 million for capital spending and $1.6 million for debt service. Gualtieri has expressed concerns about the agency's aging vehicles, computers and other equipment.

The board will have to decide how to prioritize Gualtieri's request among other county needs, such as replacing aging hardware and software, Commissioner Susan Latvala said.

"We have a wonderful working relationship with the sheriff and I'm confident that we will figure out how to keep the community safe and meet the needs in a fiscally responsible way," Latvala said. "This isn't a county where the County Commission and the sheriff go to war with each other and I certainly don't expect it to start now."

Property Appraiser Pam Dubov reported property values are likely to increase by 5 percent, 2 percent more than initially expected. That helped put the county's general fund in the black by about $2.3 million.

But the board also has to be mindful of the burden on property owners, said commissioner Norm Roche. The commission has increased the general fund tax rate, which is paid by property owners countywide, in each of the last two years.

"He's the sheriff and he knows best about what he needs to do his job," Roche said. "I'll take a very close look at it and look for ways to help him achieve his goal and minimize the cost to taxpayers."

The county's other constitutional officers also submitted their budgets this week.

Supervisor of Elections Deborah Clark submitted a $5.67 million budget, an increase of 11 percent from the current year mainly due to higher personnel expenses.

The portion of Clerk of Court Ken Burke's budget funded by the county general fund would increase about 4 percent, to $9.92 million. Most of that is to cover higher benefit costs, Burke said.

The property appraiser and tax collector budgets are submitted to the County Commission for review but approved by the state Department of Revenue. Dubov's $11.52 million budget is 4.6 percent higher than the current year. She cited the need to lease new vehicles for field employees and the cost of projects related to flood insurance, such as creating a database of building footprints and elevations.

The tax collector's budget came to $21.38 million, or about 5 percent more than last year. Deputy tax collector Steven Farber said the increase is due to higher benefit costs and the need for new computers and other technology.

Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8779. Follow @tmarrerotimes on Twitter.

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