CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri’s budget request for fiscal year 2019-2020 is more than $3.4 million over the target given to him by the county’s Office of Management and Budget.
Gualtieri talked about his need for more money to provide “absolute essentials” during the County Commission’s budget information session on May 16. He also told commissioners about other pressing needs not included in the $3.4 million, and he says more money will be required in the future.
The budget target for the sheriff’s office was just over $309.859 million. His request is for nearly $313.315 million. The sheriff’s office will generate about $34.4 million of the requested funds. Gualtieri needs nearly $279 million in General Fund money.
The biggest share, 51%, would pay for law enforcement, with 40% going to detention and corrections, and 9% for judicial operations. The bulk of the sheriff’s budget, $272 million, pays for personnel services. Another $38.5 million goes toward operating costs and debt service, and $2.6 million is left for capital needs.
Gualtieri said since FY 2016, the Office of Management and Budget had provided the sheriff’s office with an average increase of $533,983 for operating costs and another $82,459 for capital costs, which is not enough.
He said the additional funds have been used up every year by normal increases in operating costs, including inmate food, inmate transportation, information technology maintenance, vehicle repair and maintenance, and deputy uniform and equipment costs.
“This minimal annual increase leaves nothing for other significant cost increases, as well as leaving nothing for capital item replacement,” Gualtieri said.
The sheriff needs more money to provide essentials in three categories: electronic monitoring, jail pharmacy costs and jail overtime for housing federal inmates.
The capacity at the county jail is 2,920 inmates. The average daily population is about 3,000 inmates and about 150 a day sleep in floor beds. Still, conditions are better than in 2010, when the average daily inmate population was 3,600.
One of the methods the sheriff used to reduce the jail population was electronic monitoring and continuous alcohol monitoring. The monitoring programs help reduce the jail population and they save money. The average cost to house an inmate in the jail is $123 a day. It costs $4.40 a day for electronic monitoring and $8.40 for continuous alcohol monitoring.
In 2018, 5,790 people were released on a monitoring program for 176,500 days of supervision. If those people had been in jail, the cost would have been $21.7 million, as opposed to the $1.3 million in monitoring costs.
Gualtieri said on average 650 people are on electronic monitoring or continuous alcohol monitoring each day in Pinellas.
In FY 2019, $600,000 was budgeted for the monitoring programs, but it wasn’t enough to meet the 23% increase in the number of people on the program. The shortfall will be about $415,000.
In FY 2020, the sheriff estimates a shortfall of $675,000, which is included in his budget request.
Gualtieri also needs more money to pay for increases in jail pharmacy costs, mostly driven by the number of inmates with HIV.
“This is a sustained and escalating issue,” he said.
In FY 2017, 45 inmates a day were treated for HIV. In FY 2018, the number rose to 58, and so far this year, 70 inmates a day have been treated for HIV, a 56% increase over FY 2017. The jail pharmacy expenditures are about $1,600 a week per inmate.
The pharmacy budget is $1.6 million a year, which is equal to the projected cost for HIV drugs alone in FY 2020. The estimated cost for all pharmacy needs is $3 million, which is another piece of the sheriff’s increased budget request.
The sheriff also needs another $1.4 million to make up the budget shortfall in overtime expenses for housing federal inmates.
Gualtieri said on average, the jail houses about 300 federal inmates a day. The U.S. Marshal’s Service pays $88 a day for each inmate, generating about $9.6 million a year that goes to the county, not the sheriff’s office.
Gualtieri outlined several other expenses that are not in his budget requests. One was money for academy positions to help with the issue of hiring and retention, which he said was a problem throughout the state and country.
Currently, 99 law enforcement deputies and 72 detention deputies are eligible to retire and could leave at any time. By 2025, 253 law enforcement and 195 detention deputies will be eligible to retire. These numbers do not include deputies who are in the state’s Deferred Retirement Option Program.
Hiring already certified deputies is difficult because the sheriff’s office has the lowest starting pay of any major agency in the Tampa Bay area, Gualtieri said.
“This means that we have to hire people and pay them to attend the police academy,” Gualtieri said, adding that it takes about a year until they become a beginning deputy sheriff.
The sheriff would like the county to pay half of the $3.4 million deficit to pay for the academy program in FY 2020.
“We cannot continue diverting operating funds to meet personnel service demands, and we must have funds to hire and train new deputies,” Gualtieri said.
About $771,210 is needed to staff elementary and charter schools with Guardians. There are about 110 in the county. Another $208,790 is needed to pay for two deputies that were added to the sheriff’s Marine Unit a few months ago.
Along with money to pay the two marine deputies, $390,000 is needed to replace two boats in the Marine Unit fleet. It has been 12 years since the sheriff’s office bought a new patrol vessel.
The sheriff needs $1.2 million to replace the facial recognition system, which was last updated in 2014. Gualtieri said it has reached its technological “end of life.”
Gualtieri would like $425,000 to purchase a helicopter digital downlink system, so the sheriff’s office would have the capability to transmit video from a helicopter to a command post of emergency operations center.
A big expense is vehicle replacements. Gualtieri said 128 vehicles needed to be replaced in FY 2020, including 81 patrol cars. The sheriff’s office currently has $10.8 million in outstanding debt for previous vehicle purchases. Debt service for vehicles this year is $5.5 million. The cost to buy 128 vehicles in FY 2020 is $6 million.
If the vehicles were leased, it would add $1.6 million to the debt service, bringing the total debt service for FY 2020 to $16.8 million with payments of $5.8 million. The sheriff’s office needs $6 million from the General Fund or Penny for Pinellas money, or $1.6 million to pay debt service.
Gualtieri listed several future needs for discussion, including a $3.1 million for a driving range, which he has requested from Penny for Pinellas. Another $7.7 million is needed to replace the agency’s hangar, which is at least 40 years old.
The jail camera system needs to be replaced at an estimated cost of $2.4 million. He would like money for a real time crime center. He also needs money to increase pay for his personnel.
Gualtieri reminded commissioners that by law his agency couldn’t retain any reserves. Any money left in the budget at the end of the year goes back to the county.
“It’s a constant juggle to meet needs within the budgeted money,” he said. “I’m just giving you the essential stuff, but there’s more.”
Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at email@example.com.