A judge will hear arguments Monday at the Alachua County Family and Civil Justice Center about how much control Sheriff Sadie Darnell should have over her own budget.
The issue has come to a head after years of squabbling between elected officials.
The lawsuit dates back more than a year, but the genesis of the dispute goes back further than that. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell has held office since her first election in 2006, and while some annual budget cycles have been more peaceful than others, the tension between her and county commissioners began at least two years ago. The journey since has included a trip to an appeal hearing with the governor’s cabinet members in Tallahassee.
Essentially, it’s about control.
The county gives a certain amount of money every year to the sheriff to spend on the jail, law enforcement, court security, and the combined communications center. In certain years, the sheriff has needed to shift money within those functions — between items like personnel, operating expenses, capital outlay, debt service, grants and aids, or other uses — and that’s when commissioners have gotten upset. They want a judge to decide what authority a sheriff has by herself.
In other words, how far does her control extend without needing additional commissioner approval?
Both the county and sheriff’s office are expected to have their top financial officers testify during the trial. They and the attorneys will explain to Circuit Court Judge Monica Brasington why their side deserves to have more control in future budget management. She’s allotted three hours for the non-jury trial.
The judge will likely then issue her opinion later this summer.
In the meantime, this year’s budget negotiations have been fairly amicable, with the sheriff’s office tentatively budgeted to spend about $83 million in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.