Proposed budget would give Sheriff’s employees 7 percent raise

PHOTO PROVIDED BY IRCSO

Sheriff Eric Flowers wants to give his 500-plus employees a 7 percent pay raise and begin implementing a scheduled 2025 increase in the federal minimum wage to help his agency keep up with inflation and remain competitive in the local job market.

He also wants to add 35 new deputies he claims are needed to keep pace with the growth in the county’s population, which has surpassed 160,000, as well as a noticeable increase in seasonal visitors.

The sheriff shared his plans in a letter to the County Commission last week to bolster the all-time-high $71 million budget he has proposed for fiscal 2022-23.

Flowers’ 13-page proposal, which he submitted to County Administrator Jason Brown last month, seeks an 18.27 percent increase over his current $60 million budget.

If approved by county commissioners, the $11 million budget increase would be the largest given to the Sheriff’s Office in the county’s 97-year history. Percentage-wise, it would be the biggest jump in at least 20 years.

Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Debbie Carson provided Flowers’ May 24 letter to the commissioners in response to multiple requests from Vero Beach 32963 to speak with him or a member of his command staff about the specifics of his budget proposal and reasons such an increase is needed.

Flowers wrote in his one-page letter that the new deputies would be “spread amongst the patrol, corrections and school-resource divisions,” adding that those hires would account for $2.9 million, or 26 percent of the increase in his proposed budget.

More than 7 percent of his requested budget increase, Flowers wrote, would cover the cost of the agency’s new contract with Treasure Coast Community Health to provide “dedicated, professional and experienced oversight of the medical welfare” of jail inmates.

The agreement, which went into effect on May 1 and eliminated the agency’s full-time nursing staff, accounts for $750,000 of the proposed increase.

Flowers wrote that his proposed budget includes increases in capital spending on additional information-technology security and storage, and software conversions to improve efficiency.

He also cited projected pricing increases for fuel, ammunition, uniforms/body armor, equipment repairs and software.

Flowers concluded his letter by stating that the Sheriff’s Office would utilize other monies available to law enforcement agencies, such as the Law Enforcement Trust Fund and Inmate Welfare Fund, “in an effort to reduce the pressure on the county’s General Fund.”

Those additional funds might help, but probably not enough.

Unless property-tax revenues are significantly higher than projected, county commissioners would need to raise taxes – or reduce funding to other agencies and departments – to pay for the sheriff’s proposed budget.

Currently, county staffers are preparing a fiscal 2022-23 budget based on a projected 7 percent increase in property-tax revenues, which would result in an additional $5.5 million.

“The sheriff is asking for an $11 million increase,” Brown said. “So unless the revenues increase considerably more than we’re projecting, I don’t know where that money would come from.”

County Property Appraiser Wesley Davis predicted the increase in property-tax revenues to be between 7 percent and 10 percent, saying the final number is likely to be “closer to a double-digit number.”

Davis was expected to provide Brown with a preliminary tax roll yesterday, with the final tax roll coming next month.

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