Sheriff Bob Johnson during Santa Rosa County’s 2018 budget workshops told commissioners current funding levels were insufficient to keep up with serving the county’s growing population, so the board decided to move toward establishing a special assessment to support law enforcement operations.
Accordingly, Santa Rosa County Commissioners during their October 22 committee meeting will discuss approval to advertise a related public hearing — a necessary step to establish an ordinance for the proposed law enforcement Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), which would be levied in unincorporated areas.
Although Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office received a nearly $5 million annual budget increase to $45.8 million for fiscal year 2018-2019, Johnson pointed out the county’s population has soared during the past two decades.
Census data shows Santa Rosa County had a population of 117,743 in 2002, and the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research projects that number could reach 180,000 by 2020.
Sheriff Johnson in June told commissioners funding has not kept pace with the spike in population and that his agency not only needs more deputies but also construction of a jail annex.
Presently Santa Rosa County Jail is understaffed and “at capacity,” per Johnson, who said the annex would add 120 beds in two phases and help alleviate overcrowding of the facility’s current 682 beds.
“Overcrowding leads to violence, and an unsafe environment for staff and inmates,” Johnson said.
Per Florida Statutes, county governments have the power to establish MSTUs for municipal purposes.
County Administrator Dan Schebler, in supporting documentation for next week’s meeting, recommended the board approve advertising the law enforcement MSTU public hearing, where details about the assessment would be further discussed.
“It is a tax equity tool available to a board of county commissioners within its legislative discretion to place the burden of ad valorem taxes uniformly within a geographic area less than countywide,” stated Schebler.
The MSTU would not take effect until the 2019-2020 fiscal year, which begins October 1, 2019.