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Sheriff unlikely to get more officers

For the last time, Sheriff Charles Dean stepped up to the podium in the County Commission chambers to make his annual plea for more money and a bigger staff.

There were no fireworks or debate Thursday about Dean's budget request, as there have been in years past. But one thing was familiar: County budget officials recommended that the commission support part of Dean's budget but not fund new positions. This year, Dean asked for one more deputy and two new public service officers.

"It's with a great deal of regret that I tell you that it's (crime) on the rise," Dean said, adding that he desperately needed more employees. "We're not asking for a lot. We're asking for what we think is necessary. We've done the best with what we have."

Dean is running for the state Senate in November and has said this will be his last term as sheriff.

The discussion about the sheriff's budget came on the final day of the commissioners' budget workshops for the 1996-1997 fiscal year. The commission will vote on the final budget in September after two public hearings.

At the end of the session, commissioners praised department heads, including Dean, for keeping their budgets lean in tight economic times. Commissioner Gary Bartell called Dean's request "bare bones."

One issue threw a wrinkle in an otherwise smooth process.

Dean told commissioners that about 21 upper-level employees may qualify to retire early next year.

The practical ramifications may be catastrophic, Dean said. If all 21 choose to leave the Sheriff's Office when a new administration takes over, the county will owe those employees about $250,000 in accrued vacation time and unused sick leave.

Dean suggested the county set up a contingency fund in anticipation of retirements. That way, he said, the incoming sheriff will not be strapped for cash in the middle of the year and be forced to ask for more money.

But Assistant County Administrator Steve Wylie said the county simply cannot afford to set up a fund. Bartell was the only commissioner who suggested that the county set aside money now.

"We don't have $250,000 to set aside for what-ifs," Wylie said.

Commissioner Jim Fowler joked that several of the eight sheriff's candidates have promised that they will trim the department's budget.

"Based on what I hear on the campaign trail, they (the candidates) won't need it (a contingency fund)," Fowler said.

"Talk is cheap," Dean responded, shaking his head.

The commission set an upper limit on its millage rate for county property taxes, which should be good news to homeowners. The number was set at 8.057, slightly less than the rate last year. Millage is defined as the number of dollars in taxes for every $1,000 in taxable property.

Dean's $13.4-million request included a new road deputy and two public service aides to handle low-priority calls. What the county is likely to support is the remainder of the proposal, which calls for a 2.25 percent cost-of-living adjustment for his employees, merit raises and increased costs for insurance, leases and fuel.

In his request, Dean included statistics from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showing that serious crime rose 11 percent in Citrus from 1994 to 1995. Dean, who has been in office since 1981, said that for three years the commission has not granted his personnel requests.

"I wish you'd get a little bit liberal," Dean said. "I know that's a nasty word up here."

_ Information from Times files was used in this report.