CHIPLEY — Due to budget restrictions at Washington County School District, the Sheriff’s Office has reduced the number of School Resource Officers, Sheriff Bobby Haddock told the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday.
“We did have four SRO positions, but we are now down to three,” Haddock said. The sheriff was presenting current manning and revenue information to the commissioners, and he noted that of the five contract positions sheriff’s office, one of them was going away. “The school district is projecting shortfalls of over $1 million in the budget.”
That officer was moved to an open patrol position so he would not lose his job, Haddock said. The Sheriff’s Office has two contract deputies who patrol the Water Management district and had three SRO positions. Contract positions mean those salaries are paid by either the water district or the school district.
The loss of the SRO officer was just one point in many Haddock made to the board as he demonstrated the need for more sheriff’s deputies.
Washington County Sheriff’s Deputies patrol 597 square miles of territory with 16 full time deputies. “Nationally, the average is 2.6 officers per 1,000 population in a rural county,” Haddock said. “That would mean we’d need 65 sworn officers.” Currently the sheriff’s office has 32 sworn officers, or 1.3 officers per 1,000 residents.
The sheriff’s office would need to have 25 patrol deputies to meet nationally accepted law enforcement staffing statistics — the county currently has 16 patrol deputies.
Likewise, the average starting annual salary for a deputy sheriff in Florida is $44,000, while the starting salary in Washington County is $28,537.60.
“After taxes, insurance and all that is a net salary of $15,352.22,” Haddock said. The starting salary for deputies has remained the same since 2006, he noted.
In the last 12 months, the sheriff’s office has lost eight deputies. Haddock estimated the cost of training a new deputy at $7,817.89 — which means the loss of the eight deputies cost the county a total of $62,543.12.
“What really hurts is the knowledge of the community and the people that walks out the door when we lose an officer after one, or five, or seven years,” Haddock said. “That knowledge is priceless.”
Meanwhile, demand for the sheriff’s office services is growing. Calls to the county increased from 6,754 calls in 2005 to 27,753 calls in 2011. So far in 2012, the county reports 18,270 calls for service as of July 31.
“Demand for services is not going down,” the sheriff said. “Calls for us, for fire and for EMS keep going up.
“With the increase in calls, have you gotten more deputies?” Commissioner Todd Abbott asked.
“No sir, we’ve got less,” Haddock said. “We had 19 deputies last year. My goal is to get 21 officers.”
Haddock said ideally he would like to have seven officers per shift, instead of the five deputies per shift he now has for patrol. “We’ve had to cut back at the jail, we’ve cut back everywhere,” he said.
For 2012-13, the county has cut the sheriff’s office budget by $150,505 and the department took a $206,000 cut in 2011-12, according to the sheriff’s report. Since 2007, the sheriff’s office budget has been trimmed a total of $643,170.
The sheriff’s office has generated a total of $3,292, 093 since Haddock was elected in 2005, according to the sheriff’s report. The sheriff’s office collected $179,355 in civil service fees, $29,198 in jail subsistence fees, $34,030 in jail medical reimbursement and $3,049,510 in inmate housing contracts.
“That money goes back to the board, for you to spend as you see fit,” Haddock said. Medical reimbursement expenses are especially hard on the sheriff’s office, and Haddock commended Chairman Hulan Carter for the board’s work to help keep expenses under control.
“You have to provide medical services under the law,” Haddock said, “but they can get real expensive, real fast. We had one case where we had a heart cath inserted, twice.” That bill alone was about $250,000, Haddock said.
The jail revenues also took a hit when the county lost its contract with the Department of Correction to house inmates. Abbott asked if the loss of the state contract would impact jail staffing.
“We can absorb the cut,” Haddock said. “We have 20 officers at the jail, which was designed for 26 officers.” The limited personnel means the number of inmates the jail can house is also limited. “Right now, we can provide about 150 meals,” Haddock said.
Haddock also said the sheriff’s office is looking into working with Washington-Holmes Technical Center to see about getting vehicles refurbished and back on the road to get more life out of the department fleet.
“We’re doing what we can,” Haddock said. “We’ve set our vision, and we’re looking forward, and I’ve told the staff we’re going to do what we can do.”