Santa Rosa County Sheriffs deputies have not received a raise in more than five years and there are many reasons why this could be year number six.
Santa Rosa County Sheriff Wendell Hall said property values and property taxes help pay the salaries of deputies. Hall said after Hurricanes Ivan and Dennis, property values plummeted. Because of the housing bubble at the end of 2007, Hall said property values dropped again. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was also a factor because it affected sales tax and tourist development.
“The spill didn’t directly hurt property values, but it didn’t help,” Hall said.
Hall said since 2007, the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office has reduced their workforce by 20 deputies and 45 staff personnel through attrition. The starting pay for a deputy is $30,500 and that rate hasn’t increased - even for cost of living. Due to the past and present economy, there really isn't any cash to fall back on.
Hall said, “The road to recovery is happening, but it’s slow.”
Every year the Sheriff makes a budget request and goes before the County Commissioners. The commissioners decide how much will go to the public safety budget. The sheriff then has to allocate the money for many different expenses like the county jail, investigations and patrol cars. Hall said through a series of budget workshops, he will be able to get an idea of how much money he has to work with.
“We’re going to be asking for help at the very least for our sworn officers,” Hall said.
Rich Aloy, public information officer for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office, said because of the current pay rate, recruitment can be an issue. Aloy said most people will come to work for the Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office for the experience — and then move on to a higher paying job.
“The effect of that is we don’t always get the quality,” Aloy said. “We don’t get the cream of the crop.”
In spite of being one of the lowest paid agencies in Northwest Florida, or perhaps because of it, Santa Rosa County deputies still have to make sure the people are safe. Aloy said morale is key and when a person doesn’t get paid much, their morale suffers.
“I can’t speak for everybody but you really have to want to do this job,” Aloy said. “We still have to answer every call regardless the cost.”
Aloy said one of the good things about being a deputy is working with a good sheriff. Aloy said Hall has done a good job with what they have already. Aloy said one way the sheriff has done this is by working with Lou Sobh’s Milton Chevrolet. Aloy said Hall saved money by taking cars and “essentially piecemealing” them together.
“The sheriff is really good at budgeting, but he can only do so much,” Aloy said.
In October, Hall will go before the Board of County Commissioners to request a new budget. Aloy said he is hoping this year will be different.
“The only thing we can do is present our plan to the commissioners,” Aloy said. “It really is up to them.”
Deputies aren’t the only county employees who haven’t received raises. Joy Tsubooka, public information officer for Santa Rosa County said the staff serving under the five constitutional and elected officials has not received any cost of living or merit increases since 2009. She said, “That includes staff under the sheriff, clerk of court, supervisor of elections, property appraiser and the board of county commissioners.” Elected officials have had a slight increase in pay since the last fiscal year.
“The salary of elected officials is set by the state and runs on the fiscal year, not the calendar,” Tsubooka said in an email.
Jayne Bell, director of the office of management and budget said when a person leaves their position by quitting or going into retirement, the position isn’t filled. She said since 2008, 27 positions have either been consolidated or were left vacant. Bell, who has been with the county since 2012, said she has met a lot of hardworking county employees whom she believes deserve raises.
“There are a lot of county employees who are true servants to the community that deserve it,” Bell said.
On June 10th at 1:30 p.m. there will be a budget workshop at the Santa Rosa County commissioner’s office. The workshop is open to the public.