County admin pushes $800K cut for law enforcement

Posted on July 18, 2017 by Romi White

Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson during today’s budget hearing pleaded with Santa Rosa County Commissioners to fund his agency’s initial budget request instead of reducing it by roughly $800,000 as suggested by County Administrator Tony Gomillion.

In the end, commissioners sent Gomillion back to the drawing board to better work out the gap between his recommendation and the Sheriff’s request.

The sheriff’s office originally requested 23 positions to meet the demands of increased public safety needs, but this was reduced to 19 positions in a subsequent review. The balanced (fiscal year 2018 tentative budget) does not include funding for all 19 of these positions, stated the county’s tentative budget report.

Per Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office, the agency needs to hire a minimum of 19 new employees to keep up with the county’s growing population, and Gomillion’s suggestion would only provide for about four new staff — of which only half would likely be sworn officers.

“I want to say Tony left an amount in there where I could probably get two extra deputies,” Johnson said. The other hires would be civilian support staff.

Johnson started his presentation by thanking the board for pre-approving a 10-percent raise, which totaled $1.6 million for the county’s sworn law officers to help recruitment and retain deputies.

“What we did beyond the $1.6 million (for deputy raises), we plugged in $600,000 above (last fiscal year),” Gomillion told the board.

According to Johnson only $283,000 of that additional $600,000 could be used for new hires. The remainder is needed for increased operating expenses.

So Johnson said his agency not only needs the $600,000 but an additional $800,000.

During his presentation Johnson made the case to justify the new hires, pointing out that Santa Rosa County’s population has increased in recent years.

“Dispatch calls for service goes up with population,” Johnson said, noting his agency received around 12,000 more calls for service last year over the previous year and that gun-related incidents are on the rise.

Additionally, Johnson asked for two school resource officers at Holley-Navarre Middle School and King Middle School.

Johnson told the board that Santa Rosa County School District funds school resource officers at the county’s six public high schools for nine months out of each year and cannot take on funding more of the positions.

“If you have a resource officer on campus response time can be immediate versus five to six minutes if you have to call an officer off the street,” Johnson said. “It also builds a positive influence on kids.”

Commissioner Don Salter voiced support for law enforcement and suggested an expected $500,000 carry forward in the sheriff’s office 2017 budget be returned to Johnson for fiscal year 2018, which starts October 1.

Salter asked Gomillion if that anticipated half-million dollars had been factored into the budget.

“It is not,” Gomillion said.

Salter and fellow board members directed Gomillion to look into allocating the $500,000 toward meeting the sheriff’s requested budget and to also explore ways to meet the agency’s other needs.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard expressed support for funding more school resource officers, offering to help Johnson find a way to fund the positions.

Commissioner Sam Parker, a former law enforcement officer, expressed a need to do something to try to deter crime and suggested school resource officers can be a “big part of that.”

But Parker told Johnson he would like to come up with “something creative other than throwing money at (hiring deputies),” suggesting new officers would result in more arrests and incarcerations, leading to increased need for detention staff.

Parker asked Johnson if he would return during next year’s budget cycle to request additional funding.

Johnson’s response was clear.

“Here in Santa Rosa County we’ve been kicking a can down the road for a long time when it comes to staffing, and it’s not just throwing money at it,” Johnson said, adding, “It’s putting money into protecting the citizens. I swore an oath to do that. I would be remiss if I did not tell you what I needed to keep the citizens safe. Yes, there would be a personnel request next year.”