An Alachua County Sheriff candidate said he believes 10 deputies will be able to keep their positions if resources are reallocated within the departmental budget, after the Sheriff said the positions would have to be cut without extra funding.
In a County Commission board meeting on Tuesday, candidate Zac Zedalis said changes could be made within the Alachua County Sheriff Office to avoid cuts with the upcoming fiscal year budget voted on by the board.
Zedalis, a detective for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, said he believes cuts can be made in the budget toward amenities – such as painting law enforcement vehicles green – to comply with the budget voted on by board members in August.
“You treat a regular budget, even though it’s larger, like a household budget… you can cut the amenities,” he said.
The ACSO budget is the county’s largest budget item with an excess of $70 million allocated, said County Commissioner Ken Cornell.
Those funds are used to run multiple departments with the office such as the jail, the combined communications center and its law enforcement branch. Cornell said a little more than $31 million of those funds are budgeted for law enforcement.
However, Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell’s presentation slides stated the tentative law enforcement budget was just over $30 million, which includes officers’ pay.
Darnell pleaded with board members Tuesday to increase her fiscal year budget.
The budget for law enforcement is not enough for Darnell to keep 10 deputies employed after Alachua County Public Schools decided to hire local law enforcement instead of ACSO officers for the School Resource Deputy program, implemented after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
She requested an increase in her law enforcement budget to accommodate those deputies’ salaries at Tuesday’s meeting after the board voted on a reduction Aug. 13. Her certified budget request was close to a $930,000 difference in the tentative amount she will be provided, which is $30,104,868, according to her presentation slides.
Part of Darnell’s request for a budget increase is to accommodate the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for her employees. For all ACSO employees to earn a 3 percent COLA this year, it would cost her $1.4 million, according to her slides.
“I can’t find $1.4 million,” she said.
Darnell added that she compromised by taking employees who are eligible for a step plan – the process in which employees are eligible for a raise – off the table to not receive the COLA. She said she couldn’t find it in her budget to provide such funds because the ACSO’s budget has only increased by $39,600 in the last nine years, she said.
Darnell’s specific request of the board was to not eliminate 10 deputy positions.
“We need your support more now than ever,” she said to the board.
Cornell said the board decided to reduce a portion of those 10 deputy salaries in her budget because they’re being paid for in other law enforcement budgets.
Last year ACSO received $800,000 for its positions within the school resource program, which is funded through a state program, Cornell said. This year, the fund has been reduced to just over $400,000. The money was reallocated by the school board to local law enforcement, he said.
The $400,000 difference is the amount being cut from the budget, Cornell said. He said those costs are still being paid for by taxpayers, but are allocated to other local law enforcement agencies instead of the Sheriff’s office.
Zedalis thinks the office can find a way to reallocate the funds to keep those 10 deputies on the road.
Over the last nine years, the law enforcement budget has steadily increased while the number of first responders out on the roads has decreased, Zedalis said.
He also said there are fewer officers protecting citizens on the roads because of the department’s current philosophy. He suggests focusing on “straight, basic law enforcement,” making cuts in other areas and not funding other projects.
“Our main function is service and protection,” he said, while stressing the importance of making those things a priority, something he does not believe the sheriff’s office has done.