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County Commission gives Sheriff Watson an extra $2.7 million for raises

Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., speaks to the Alachua County Commission on Nov. 8

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – At the November 8 Alachua County Commission meeting, the board voted unanimously to return $2.7 million in unused FY21-22 funds to the Sheriff’s Office after the Sheriff promised that all of the money would go to salaries. 

Sheriff Clovis Watson, Jr., had informed Commission Chair Marihelen Wheeler in a letter that his office would be returning $4,859,071.42 in unused funds to the County; 70% of the money ($3.4 million) was from retirements and vacancies in the Combined Communications Center, Sheriff’s Office, Court Services, and Jail staff. 

The staff recommendation to the board was that they not return any of the money to Watson because the County had already provided funds for 7% salary increases for all County employees and all constitutional officers in the FY22-23 budget. However, Sheriff’s Office employees have not seen that 7% increase in salaries yet. Staff also pointed out that any funds allocated to the Sheriff’s Office would be one-time funds that would raise salaries and lead to recurring expenses with no identified funding source; staff said there was “a very large probability” that this would require future increases in property tax millage.

Alachua County currently pays starting deputies and deputy detention officers $42,207/year, and all of them received an extra $1,000 mid-year, but the salary schedule did not increase, so new hires are still getting $42,207. A 7% increase would bring that to around $45,161 ($46,161 for those who got the mid-year raise). 

Starting salaries for deputies in fiscally-constrained counties (including many of the rural counties surrounding Alachua County) are set by the state at $45,000, and detention officers make $42,500. Commissioner Ken Cornell said he wanted Alachua County to pay at least as much as, but preferably more than, the fiscally-constrained counties.

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In Marion County, deputies are at $47,240. Clay County was at $43,000 in the FY22 budget year, and the City of Gainesville pays $48,561, but pension contributions are higher for City of Gainesville employees than for County employees. After reviewing those numbers, Cornell said, “I think Alachua County values law enforcement and public safety and, really, paying people, I think, as well as anyone else.”

Danielle Judd, Chief of Staff to Sheriff Watson, said the money for the 7% raises “is still there.” She said the Sheriff’s Office paid step increases at the “earliest ever” date this year, starting with the payroll of October 27. She said the Sheriff plans to give all employees the cost of living increase just before Thanksgiving and that even employees who don’t qualify for a step increase will get the 7% increase. Judd confirmed that starting salaries are $42,207 for deputies, just over $56,000 for sergeants, $71,000 for lieutenants, just over $34,000 for Combined Communications Center staff, and detention officers have similar starting rates to deputies. Judd said that the Sheriff wants to move deputies closer to $50,000; the 7% increase would get starting deputies to $45,161. 

Sheriff Watson emphasized that every employee will get the 7% increase, effective October 1, 2022, whether or not they are eligible for a step increase. 

Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn said public safety is an essential function of government and that her focus was specifically on deputies that day. She said, “I think we need to make a decision today to send a message that yes, we do support our law enforcement, that we do support our deputies on the front lines.” She asked what it would take to bring deputies up to $47,000 and give everyone else a 7% raise. The answer she received was that it would cost $1.5 million to get sworn deputies and detention officers to $47,000.

Cornell said he would like for the $4.8 million to go into the pockets of employees, but that presents a problem for future budgets. He said he was confident that property values would continue to increase and added, “I don’t want to wait until next November to capture that; folks need the money now.” He also favored increases for all employees, not just sworn employees, so he was glad to see the Sheriff promise to give the 7% increase to every employee. 

Sheriff Watson said he had waited until after this meeting to do the 7% increase because he was hoping the board would give him more money to be able to give raises of 8%, 9%, or even 10%. 

Cornell said he would “love” to get every sworn officer to $50,000, but “I don’t think we’re able to afford that yet.” He proposed returning $2.7 million to the Sheriff’s Office to get sworn officers and detention officers to $47,000 and a 7% increase for everyone else. He suggested that the Sheriff might be able to use some of the money to offer hiring and retention bonuses in an effort to decrease the 182 vacancies.

Commissioner Anna Prizzia said she was “frustrated” with the poor communication between the board and the Sheriff. She said that instead of responding to the board’s letter, he copied the board on a letter he sent to all his employees. She also said she was concerned about giving the Sheriff one-time money for recurring raises. She asked, “Why can we not find that money in your existing budget for those raises above 7% this year and have a conversation when we’re able to actually look at tax values next year?”

Prizzia chastised Watson for holding back the 7% raises, saying it felt “very challenging.” Watson responded that he doesn’t have the authority to give raises to union employees until they vote on a new contract that includes the raises. A meeting was scheduled this week to negotiate a new contract with the union, but it was postponed to next week because of the Tropical Storm.

Cornell made a motion to allocate $2.7 million back to the Sheriff and ask staff to work more closely together next spring to identify whether property values will support the ongoing salaries. He said, “It won’t get you to 50, but it’ll certainly get you farther than we are today.” He added that the funds included one-time money to work on retention and personnel. Eagle-Glenn seconded the motion. 

During public comment on the motion, the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the Police Benevolent Association, and Sheriff’s Office employees spoke in favor of returning the funds to the Sheriff for increased salaries. Several commenters compared the high volume of calls in Alachua County to the very low volume in the fiscally-constrained counties and pointed out that our deputies make less while facing a higher workload and more dangerous working conditions. 

Dorian Keith, the Interim Jail Director, told the board, “We’re down over 70 positions, and it’s hard to keep everybody safe. Not only are we keeping the inmates safe, we gotta keep the staff safe, as well, and to do that, we need staffing, and in order to get that staffing, we need to be able to compete on wages… Our officers are flocking to the neighboring counties.” She said that if 10 more people leave, “we’re at critical staffing”

Prizzia wanted a promise from the Sheriff that the money would go to employees, “spread across the entire organization.” Watson responded, “Every penny that you-all give us this year will go solely to employees of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.”

The motion passed 4-0 with Commission Chuck Chestnut absent.

  • What everyone fails to grasp, is that the step plan is guaranteed by contract. Whether or not the Sheriff received money to increase everyone’s wages by 7%, every eligible deputy would have advanced in the step plan, receiving a 2.5% raise. What the Sheriff is doing is double counting that step plan raise, thereby reducing the actual amount of money deputies receive to 4.5%. The ethical decision would have been to raise the step plan in its entirety by 7%. after this year’s step.

    In addition, it was negotiated into contract years ago that all deputies would advance in the stop plan at the same time, in October, instead of on their anniversary date. This was to simplify the process for Accounting & Budgeting. This has not changed. Every year, it happens on October 1st. It’s not a surprise. So why is the Sheriff unable to accomplish that simple task instead of waiting until December? He has an entire year to plan for it.

    My guess is he never actually shows up to know what’s going on at his own agency.

  • The County Commission needs to stop the bleeding of residents as much as ACSO needs to stop the blood on the streets.
    A good start would be to stop taking property off the tax rolls and giving their “buds” so much taxpayer funded monies. Nice when you get to live in/on your property but no longer have to pay taxes.
    Maybe the county should look into buying all the properties countywide to assist with affordable housing crisis.

  • If you are a rank and file taxpayer you have no idea what all this financial doublespeak means? So did Watson use money as it was meant or not? And now he’s getting more?

  • So the Commission gave him funds for every employee to get a 7% pay increase and he did not do it? (Paragraph #3)

    Returning a surplus saying he can’t give union employees aka sworn employees raises due to their contracts? (Paragraph #14)

    He was hoping by having a surplus the commission would actually give him more? (Paragraph #11)

    His admin says he still has the 7% to give raises…presumably without returning these funds? (Paragraph #7)

    1. Wonder why staffing is so low and everyone is leaving?

    2. I remember Sadie fighting so hard, including lawsuits, to prove that as sheriff she was allowed to be autonomous with her budget. He seems be benefiting from that but this “doesn’t pass the smell test” as Grady Judd would say.

    3. To accept the funds for 7% raises for everyone he should have said then that he can’t increase sworn without their contract being renegotiated.

    4. Why has he continued to avoid negotiating with the sworn’s union?

    5. Where is the 7% Mrs. Judd is sitting on?

    6. There is too many smoke and mirrors, slight of hands going on and too few employees left for all of this nonsense. What is really going on over there?

    7. The commission is finally funding the agency after all of Sadie’s hard work and all they want is for this sheriff to communicate with them and actually have employees and he can’t even do that? Ridiculous.

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