NEW PORT RICHEY — The flood of inmates has reached record levels. They've already spilled onto the jail's top floor, Sheriff Chris Nocco says. His staff is struggling to stay above it all, gasping for precious budget dollars.
Since the expansion of the jail in 2009, only its first two floors have been in use. But with a rising population, inmates began filling the 128 beds on the jail's third floor in October. Without deputies for that floor in this year's budget, Nocco said they have staffed it by burning overtime pay.
As he released his proposed $93 million budget for next year, Nocco made his push for a $6.2 million increase for, among other things, more staffing at the jail.
"We're putting more and more people in our jail, and it's setting the tone," he said at a press conference Friday. "In the long term, we have to ensure that we are properly staffed."
The sheriff presented the budget proposal earlier Friday to the County Commission. The proposal will go into consideration with the rest of the county's budget, which must be set by Oct. 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
Here's what makes up the requested $6.2 million increase:
• $900,000 for a new fleet of Ford Fusions for detectives.
• $1.7 million for state-mandated pension increases.
• $1.9 million in a 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment, which the sheriff says will keep deputies from looking for jobs elsewhere. The sheriff, chief deputy, bureau commanders and chief administrative officer will not receive pay raises.
• Nearly $1.9 million to hire 41 new jail staffers for the third floor.
In recent months, Nocco has sent letters to the County Commission outlining conditions at the jail:
The average daily population is 1,450 inmates (that number was 1,490 Friday morning), leaving 58 inmates in temporary cots. About 415 live in temporary housing. In two years, the jail population is expected to reach 1,700.
Capt. Ray Revell, administration support division commander at the Sheriff's Office, previously told the Times that kitchen and laundry services at the jail have already reached capacity. The inmates who are left to sleep in cots on the floor — 279 on Thursday night, when the population spiked higher than average — pose civil rights concerns for the jail, he said.
Nocco said despite the requested budget increase, he's trying to cut costs where he can.
The Sheriff's Office hires deputies to staff the jail's control rooms, but it can pay civilians $23,000 less a year each for the same job. Nocco plans to do that, and move those 27 deputies to help staff the third floor of the jail. He would also hire eight more deputies and six licensed nurse practitioners for that floor.
With the rising inmate population comes rising medical care costs. Nocco said he has been negotiating with private medical care companies to see if they would be cheaper. The change would not figure into next year's budget, though.
The sheriff switched to a private food vendor in the jail last year.
At the press conference Friday, he maintained he's not asking for much.
"If you look at our budget, there is really nothing extravagant," he said. "We're asking for things that are … meat and potatoes. We're just trying to get through."
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.