Pinellas Sheriff requests $21 million, agrees to get by on $6 million

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

During budget meetings in 2014, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri made a strong case for a two-part plan to balance his agency’s pay scale.

County commissioners agreed and added money to the fiscal year 2015 budget to start the process. During a budget meeting May 21, Gualtieri requested the additional funds to finish the job of implementing a balanced pay structure.

Pay problems over the past few years have made it a challenge for the Sheriff’s Office to “keep the best of the best,” Gualtieri said. He explained that “severe pay compression at the bottom of the pay range” had created a situation where new deputies earned the same as a deputy with five years of experience. Experienced deputies earned less than those they supervised.

Gualtieri talked at length about the “brain drain” caused by the inability to offer competitive pay. He presented a number of pages of information detailing the problems.

Right now, the most senior law enforcement deputy with the rank of captain at the sheriff’s office has only five years in that position. Eight of 11 law enforcement captains, or 73 percent, have less than two years in their positions. All four corrections captains at the jail have less than one year in their position.

The four law enforcement majors have less than one year in their positions. Eleven of 26 law enforcement lieutenants have less than two years in their positions, and all but four have less than six years of experience.

Seventy-seven percent of the patrol deputies have less than three years on the job and 53 percent of the sergeants have less than two years of experience as a supervisor.

The Department of Detention and Corrections colonel has 1,100 employees under his command. The major of the Patrol Operations Bureau commands almost 700 employees.

The Patrol North District has 127 deputies and 13 sergeants, which is an average of 9.7 deputies per sergeant. The Patrol Central District has 202 deputies and 24 sergeants, which is an average of 8.4 deputies per sergeant.

“This is a minimally acceptable span of control,” Gualtieri said.

In addition, PCSO’s ratio of deputies to citizens is the lowest in the local area.

In 2014, the sheriff’s office had 1.61 deputies per citizen, up from 1.48 in 2013, the lowest since 2008 when there were 1.8 deputies per citizen. Clearwater had 2.48 law enforcement officers per citizen. St. Petersburg had 2.46. Largo had 2.14 and Tarpon Springs had a 1.98 ratio of officers to citizens.

The sheriff’s office is responsible for law enforcement for 50 percent of the county’s land area and 68 percent of its waterways. It is responsible for law enforcement for 41 percent of the county’s population. Ten different police departments are responsible for law enforcement for the remaining 59 percent.

In addition, the sheriff’s office is responsible for the jail, which has an average population of 2,800, plus another 400 clients at Safe Harbor, a shelter for homeless people that are arrested on misdemeanor charges and those who can’t stay at other shelters due to behavioral or substance abuse problems.

The sheriff’s office has oversight for people on pre-trial release, those monitored electronically and those who must report in daily – about 1,000 individuals. Deputies monitor another 2,500 on misdemeanor probation. All told, on an average day, sheriff’s employees are responsible for as many as 6,700 who are in jail or under deputy supervision.

Budget request

Gualtieri submitted a budget request of nearly $277.5 million, which is $20.6 million over the budget target set by the county’s Office of Management and Budget. The sheriff estimates generating revenue of just over $31.3 million, which leaves a gap of about $246 million, which he is requesting to come from the General Fund.

Approximately 53 percent of the sheriff’s budget pays for law enforcement, 39 percent for detention and corrections and 8 percent for judicial operations, including security. Eighty-five percent goes toward personnel services, 11 percent to operating and debt, and 4 percent for capital expenses.

Currently, the sheriff employs 2,738 people, including crossing guards, grant-funded and contract positions. Of that number, 787 are full-time law enforcement deputies and 666 work as detention deputies. There are another 12 part-time law enforcement deputies. The Sheriff’s Office has 1,037 full-time civilian employees, plus another 65 part-time workers and 191 temporary civilian employees.

Gualtieri said his budget has no wants. He is only asking for money for essential needs. He reminded commissioners of budget cuts made from 2009-2013 of $108 million and the loss of 616 positions, including 167 law enforcement deputies and 250 detention deputies.

Employees went five years without a wage adjustment.

Competitive pay problems

In 2014, the starting salary for a sheriff’s deputy was $41,284. Largo police officers had the next lowest starting pay of $41,700 and Pinellas Park came in second lowest at $41,787. Tampa police offered the highest starting salary at $48,506 followed by Clearwater at $45,583 and Belleair at $45,484.

“As the largest law enforcement agency in Pinellas County and one of the largest in the Tampa Bay area, we were one of the least paid and we did not offer a competitive compensation package,” Gualtieri said.

Thanks to extra money in the 2015 budget, Gualtieri is now able to offer a starting salary of $45,500, but other agencies also increased their offers. Pinellas Park retained its starting salary of $41,787, the lowest. Largo raised its starting salary to $43,014. The Belleair Police Department offers the highest starting salary in the county at $46,166, followed by Gulfport at $45,858, Clearwater at $45,583 and St. Petersburg at $45,371.

Gualtieri also has problems retaining experienced deputies. With no structured pay plan that allows deputies to advance to the top level of a pay range, attrition rates are high. Deputies with 20 or more years on the job still are not at top pay, he said.

Gualtieri requested funding of $18.4 million over two years to solve his pay problems. He estimated he would need $6 million in 2015 and $12.4 million in 2016. He said he was able to negotiate a new Union contract based on the restructured plan. The contract calls for the remainder of the pay plan to go into effect in 2016.

In the end, the new structured pay plan will save money, Gualtieri said. He said in fiscal year 2017, a general 3 percent wage increase would cost $3.9 million under the old plan. With the new plan, the increase would cost $3.2 million – a savings of $700,000.

Other budget needs

The Sheriff’s Office also needs to replace 134 vehicles, including 89 patrol vehicles. Fifty-five percent of the cars Gualtieri needs to replace have more than 100,000 miles on the odometer. The oldest patrol car in use on a daily basis is a 2002 Ford Crown Victoria with more than 100,000 miles. The car with the highest mileage is a 2005 of the same model with 140,000 miles.

Gualtieri said the age and condition of the fleet was racking up huge repair and maintenance costs. He said patrol cars routinely break down in route to a call or while on scene. Between 2012 and 2015, the Sheriff’s Office has spent $4.6 million on vehicle repair and maintenance, not including the $1.8 million in mechanics’ salaries.

Gualtieri said there is currently $7.1 million in outstanding debt from previous vehicle buys. Debt service will cost $2.6 million in 2016. The cost to buy 134 vehicles is $5.4 million, which is what Gualtieri prefers to do.

“If we lease again, the additional FY 2016 debt service payment for these vehicles is $1.4 million,” he said. “This would bring our total debt to $12.5 million and our FY 2016 debt payments to $4 million.”

However, he told commissioners he was willing to go with leasing if there was no way to fund the purchase.

“I have no problem going with a lease,” he said. “My No. 1 priority is to fix the pay plan. It will be fixed this year even at the expense of other things.”

The $20 million over-target budget amount also includes money to send recruits to the police academy.

It costs $58,014 for salary and benefits during the 42 weeks of training required of a law enforcement deputy, $30,388 for 22 weeks of training for a detention deputy and $38,668 to train a certified law enforcement deputy for 28 weeks.

The cost for 25 law enforcement recruits, which is the average class size, is $1.5 million and $760,000 for a corrections class. The class cost to train 20 certified recruits is $775,000.

In 2013, the Sheriff’s Office spent $6.8 million training recruits and $7 million in 2014. Gualtieri estimates that $2.7 million will be spent this year on training new deputies.

“We had to rob Peter to pay Paul to cover these expenses, which meant forgoing operating purchases, like cars and technology maintenance,” he said.

He estimates additional costs of $4.2 million in FY 2016 to hire another 96 deputies to replace those that will be lost due to attrition.

The Sheriff’s Information Technology Bureau manages about $27.5 million in technology assets. Gualtieri said those assets require constant repair and replacement due to wear and tear, as well as ever-evolving technology.

Among the technology needs postponed over the past few years are portable police radios, network upgrades, server replacements and multiple-year enterprise license agreements. Gualtieri said many of these items are now at end-of-life or technologically obsolete.

Despite the challenges, crime is down 23 percent, he said.

“We’re lean and we’re getting it done,” Gualtieri said. “But we’re doing it with less.”

Commissioner Janet Long pointed out that law enforcement is a difficult and dangerous job. She supported giving Gualtieri what he needs to fix the pay plan.

“We made a promise to him last year … to fix this in two years,” she said. “It is about values and priorities in our community.”

Commissioner Ken Welch asked how much of the $20 million was needed for the pay plan.

“If I can get $6 million of the $20 million I can make it work,” Gualtieri said. “If I don’t, I don’t know what I would do.”

He did warn of the potential consequences of not funding other needs — recruit training, vehicle replacements and technology upgrades.

The commission directed County Administrator Mark Woodard to include the Sheriff’s needs as staff prepares for a June 4 discussion on budget priorities and funding strategies.