Sheriff Gary Borders has proposed a $3.2 million budget increase for fiscal year 2014-15 budget to boost salaries for all employees.
“We are starting to lose good, quality deputy sheriffs, not only to the private sector but to local police departments,” Borders said. “We have got to be competitive in our salaries so we can not only hire but retain good, quality employees.”
The Sheriff’s Office has had no pay increases in the last five years, according to Lt. John Herrell, spokesman for the sheriff.
Compared with 12 Lake County cities, LCSO ranked sixth in highest annual starting salaries for officers. The cities of Clermont, Mount Dora, Groveland, Lady Lake and Leesburg have higher salaries.
Borders said he is concerned because 10 deputies have left in the past year.
A total of 648 employees work at the LCSO: 267 in law enforcement, 168 in corrections and 213 in civilian positions.
“A starting LCSO deputy makes $35,485, the same as a five-year deputy,” Borders said. “They put their life on the line every day to go out and do a good job for the citizens of this county. We have to start working on increases in deputy salaries to pay them a decent income for the job they do. They have a dangerous job and we are just behind.”
Herrell said the $3.2 million increase will “allow the sheriff to raise the starting pay some this coming fiscal year, as well as provide tiered raises for the rest of the employees.”
“The exact percentage rates for each category of raises have not been calculated at this point,” he wrote in an email. “However, the largest percentage rates will go to the lower level deputies.”
Several county commissioners said meeting the sheriff’s request and other needs in the co unty, from IT and infrastructure to a shortfall in the parks budget, would require raising taxes.
The county’s budget has an $8 million shortfall because of past declining property values and the sheriff’s budget increase.
In order to maintain 7 percent in reserves, that shortfall must be met, according to Stephen Koontz, budget director.
According to county officials, preliminary budget numbers showed there are not sufficient revenues to meet needs without a tax increase.
Commissioner Leslie Campione said she did not support a tax increase.
“I wholeheartedly support that Lake County Sheriff’s Office employees should have competitive wages,” she said. “But I am looking for other solutions that do not require a tax increase. I don’t believe a tax increase is prudent considering th at our local economy is attempting to make a comeback and this would be the worst time to raise taxes in Lake County. I feel it is important to be clear I would not support a tax increase.”
Borders said in the last three years he has made about $8 million in cuts to his budget.
Over the last seven years the department has reduced its ranks by 68 employees through attrition and vacancies that have remained unfilled.
Borders said deputies have also had to contend with insurance rate increases and a new law requiring them to contribute 3 percent of their salary into the Florida Retirement System.
Commissioner Tim Sullivan said the sheriff’s budget is realistic.
“It is hard to hire the best when you are not paying as much as other local units,” he said. “That is a concern.”
The commission has tough budgetary decisions ahead, Sullivan said.
“Probably to do everything that is comfortable for us we are probably looking at some kind of tax increase,” he said. “Public safety is right at the top of the things we are required to do. I believe if the need is there, the taxpayers understand that.”
Commissioner Jimmy Conner said his inclination is to support the sheriff’s budget.
“Nobody wants to raise taxes,” he said. “I think when the sheriff has cut his budget three years in a row, you either support the sheriff or you don’t. We know continuing to cut is not sustainable, not when you are losing deputies to six other cities paying more. Part of our responsibility is to make sure the sheriff can offer competitive salaries.”