Santa Rosa County Commission Chairman Rob Williamson this morning made a successful motion to direct county staff to include a 10-percent pay raise for Santa Rosa County deputies in the fiscal year 2018 budget.
The move followed a request by Williamson for newly installed Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson to tell commissioners what his agency needs to attract and keep qualified law enforcement officers.
Johnson this morning told commissioners a 10-percent pay raise would put his office in a position to better compete with neighboring agencies.
“We’ve talked about the ‘disparity’ in starting pay between other departments. Our starting pay is 10 percent less than Gulf Breeze Police Department and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. We’re almost $8,000 less than Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. So it’s no surprise that officers get trained here and go to other agencies,” said Commissioner Lane Lynchard. “I think it’s vitally important that we look into this and adjust the starting pay of our deputies. It’s must easier to keep crime low than to try to reduce crime after it gets out of control.”
Per Johnson, the increase would not apply to employees who are not sworn officers but the $1,681,141.20 figure he cited does include an “across the board” pay hike for all deputies.
“I want you to know you have my support,” said Commissioner Bob Cole, who suggested a municipal services benefit unit tax to fund the increase, pointing out that amount of money “it isn’t something that we can just tweak the budget.”
However, Williamson suggested the county could instead leverage new revenue generated from the local option sales tax voters approved in November 2016.
“I feel that we can shift that toward improving the starting salaries and salaries in general,” Williamson said, noting the county usually provides the agency with $1.2 million in capital expenditure funding from general reserves. He said those funds along with a $200,000 cut in the agency’s operating budget could render the pay increase “budget neutral.”
Johnson said the agency typically returns more than that amount back to the county each year so he feels “comfortable” that is a possibility.
New County Commissioner Sam Parker, a former law enforcement officer who sustained gunfire in the line of duty, also voice his support. “I definitely see that we use a ‘considerable’ portion of the (local option sales tax)…that is what we sold to the public when we asked for the LOST,” said Commissioner Sam Parker.
Additionally, Mark Miller, President of the Navarre Area Board of Realtors, asked commissioners to move forward with the pay raise. “As the county continues to grow at a rapid pace, it is vital that we not only expand the number of our law enforcement professionals, but that we incentivize those we have, to stay,” Miller said.
The board has a Feb. 7 policy workshop scheduled where implementation of the move is expected to be further discussed.