BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis submitted a $42,760,940 budget to county commissioners this week, which includes a 2 percent cost of living raise for employees below the rank of lieutenant.
Nienhuis is also proposing to hire more frontline and support personnel to his staff, including an animal services officer, two school resource deputies, two telecommunicators and two jail detention deputies and a network support technician.
The budget is $1.6 million (or 4 percent ) higher than last year but it ensures the sheriff’s office can maintain the appropriate staffing levels to account for expected growth, Nienhuis said.
The sheriff’s budget is the largest of the five elected constitutional officers. And for fiscal year 2014-15, Nienhuis said the emphasis is on cost-saving measures, efficiency of services and retention of law enforcement professionals.
He said the 2 percent cost of living adjustment is a “first small step” in correcting what he called the problem of pay compression caused by wage freezes over several years and will allow him to attract and retain quality personnel.
“This year, we were able to fund and successfully implement our pay decompression plan without the board of county commissioners having to increase any revenues to do so,” Nienhuis said. “The plan for my fiscal year 2014-15 budget accomplishes that same goal once again.”
To ensure the board doesn’t have to increase revenues to fund his plan, Nienhuis said he expects to return to the county enough money in unspent funds from his current budget to more than cover the cost of the proposed pay plan.
Nienhuis said he saved taxpayers about $1.5 million by putting jail inmates to work cleaning and maintaining county facilities, roads and medians.
He continues to focus on the agency’s volunteer program, and currently has more than 1,150 people helping out the community at little or no cost.
The sheriff’s self-insured health insurance program rates will remain relatively unchanged for the fifth consecutive year, he said.
The budget also includes funding of the countywide consolidated 911 communications center, the emergency management department and the county jail.
“I know I must balance the need to be fiscally conservative with the need to maintain our ability to make our citizens and our business owners feel safe,” Nienhuis said. “While I am excited with the positive economic signs we see in Hernando County, it does force my staff and me to take a hard look at the impact of that growth on our ability to provide service.”
Nienhuis added that he would be remiss in his duties if he ignored recent data that shows an uptick in housing starts and commercial growth, especially along Mariner Boulevard and State Road 50.
“Although this is very positive for our community, my agency must take small and reasonable steps to prepare for the additional workload that will come with this exciting news, especially considering that this budget must anticipate needs through September of 2015,” he said. “Waiting for an obvious problem to arise, due to poor strategic planning, is simply not an option for us.”
County Commissioner Diane Rowden declined to comment on the sheriff’s budget until she has time to review it with him in person.
“My feeling is that’s a professional courtesy on my part, to sit down and listen to his plan or what he’s got in place,” Rowden said.
And that courtesy, she added, applies to all five elected constitutional officers.
George Zoettlein, assistant county administrator of budget and business development, said he will review all the constitutional officers’ budgets and submit a proposed county budget to commissioners by July 15.
There will be public hearings on the 2014-15 budget on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
To view the entire sheriff’s budget, visit http://bit.ly/Sz953d.