County slams sheriff's appeal to the state for more money

Sheriff Al Nienhuis says his department needs several new workers, including a 
K-9 deputy.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis says his department needs several new workers, including a K-9 deputy.
Published Oct. 26, 2016

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County sent a provocative response to Sheriff Al Nienhuis' appeal of his 2016-17 budget to the state last week, saying the county didn't have the money to provide the added $1.7 million the sheriff requested — and that his office didn't really need it.

The sheriff's appeal, the county's response said, is not so much a legal argument as a "series of angry, hopeful, cathartic screeds against what he perceives as slights. … Trying to identify substantive, relevant arguments from the din of his anger in the petition is a task as difficult as nailing jelly to a wall."

The response — sent to the general counsel of Gov. Rick Scott — said Nienhuis' request was for "new, wholly discretionary funding."

And the county, burdened by expenses such a larger contribution to its health insurance coverage for employees, "would have had to impose a property tax increase to fund the sheriff's request," the response said.

"Given Hernando County's slow recovery from the recent recession, the (commission) voted unanimously not to do so."

Nienhuis took the unusual step of appealing his budget to the governor and state Cabinet on Oct. 11, stating that the county's allocation of $42.9 million — the same the Sheriff's Office received last fiscal year — was not enough for his office to do its job as required by the Florida Constitution.

Such appeals typically take several months.

In his appeal — a step no Hernando sheriff has taken in recent history — Nienhuis said the money allocated by the commission would prevent him from hiring much-needed new employees, including a K-9 deputy, a detective to monitor sexual offenders and predators, and a mental health worker at the Hernando County Detention Center.

The county responded by saying that those were new jobs, not ones the office needed to fulfill its duty. As proof of the adequacy of the funding provided for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which started Oct. 1, the county cited the fact that Nienhuis returned about $924,000 to the county at the end of last fiscal year.

Nienhuis attended the commission meeting Tuesday but did not speak about budget issues, only about the apparent confusion over the reason for his appearance. He said he was there at the request of the commission, while commission Chairman Jim Adkins said Nienhuis had asked for time to speak.

After the meeting, Nienhuis said the county's response misrepresented the $924,000 returned to the county. More than half of it was raised from fees that his office is required by law to hand back to the county; the remainder, about $350,000, he had to keep on hand to avoid going over budget in case an emergency — for example, a major crime requiring large amounts of overtime — came up near the end of the fiscal year.

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The extra positions he asked for, he said, are critically needed. Pasco County, for example, has a population about 21/2 Hernando's but has five times as many K-9 officers. "If you look at other agencies, we're very, very thin, and our workload is growing," he said.

Nienhuis also took issue with the tone of the county's response.

"They're making light of a very serious thing," he said, "and it's disappointing to me that they don't take it seriously and address the issues."

Contact Dan DeWitt at Follow @ddewitttimes.