Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco says he needs a $5.4 million increase in his annual budget to provide better pay and benefits — both to recruit new employees and to keep veterans from leaving for higher paying jobs.
“It’s a morale issue,” Nocco told Pasco County commissioners at a June 2 workshop in New Port Richey.
The sheriff’s office is on pace to set a record for 50 resignations this year, largely due to low compensation, Nocco said.
His 2016 budget request is about $104 million in total, about 6.7 percent higher than the budget approved by commissioners last year.
Other increases in Nocco’s budget include $475,000 for body cameras and $254,000 for aircraft maintenance.
The argument that Pasco is losing officers tired of low pay isn’t new. Nocco has issued the warning in past years.
He came to this year’s budget workshop armed with fresh data and a salary survey to back up his claims.
“We didn’t just cry wolf,” said Nocco. “The problem is growing.”
The salary of a Tampa police officer is more than $48,000 a year, and in Pinellas it is more than $45,000, based on information gleaned from agency websites as part of a salary survey done by Tallahassee-based Evergreen Solutions. Pasco deputies make just under $40,000 a year.
Some counties, including Pinellas, also use the incentive of a signing bonus to attract staff.
Evergreen Solutions reviewed salaries paid by 13 of 16 peer law enforcement agencies in the state. Pasco was at the bottom in salary compensation, and gives no signing bonuses.
At Nocco’s request, the survey focused on the local market area of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, and the cities of St. Petersburg and Tampa.
Evergreen Solutions is recommending a three-year phased in step pay plan to provide incremental increases linked to an employee’s job description. The requested $5.4 million would cover the first year’s cost of salaries and benefits.
Commissioners are in the midst of reviewing budget proposals from all county departments.
Data on revenues will be provided by the tax collector’s office on July 1. A final budget won’t be approved until September, with two budget hearings in the interim.
“We know we have challenges ahead of us,” said Chairman Ted Schrader.
Pasco doesn’t have the tax base to pay for everything it needs, he said.
While everyone supports public safety, Schrader was skeptical of the proposed pay plan and its impact on future budget requests. “Where does it stop?” he said.
The economic downturn in the economy that began in 2008 has strained Pasco’s coffers. Many departments, including libraries and parks, took hits in recent years.
Since 2013, the county has boosted the budget for the sheriff’s office by 12 percent, including an additional $7.2 million for fiscal 2015, according to county budget records. Those records also reveal that the sheriff’s office’s budget represents more than 40 percent of total ad valorem expenditures from the county’s general fund.
Nocco acknowledged the commission’s support for past requests. “We know if there was more money in the pot, our numbers would go up,” he said. “ I think a lot of people are seeing the need. The Tampa Bay market in law enforcement is very competitive. But, you have been supportive. There is no doubt about it.”
Commissioner Mike Moore appeared generally favorable toward Nocco’s request. Based on the sheriff’s data, he calculated that the county has spent close to $5 million in training costs for officers who later left for better paying jobs.
Better retention of employees would be cost efficient, he added.
“We’re growing by leaps and bounds,” Moore said. “It’s not just about big versus small (counties) anymore. It’s who’s growing the fastest.”
Preliminary numbers from the tax collector are looking good, said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey. “We’ll have an even better next year.”
But she said challenges remain.
“We are filling up with people who don’t have a lot of money to pay for everything we want to do,” Starkey said.
Published June 10, 2015