County officials Tuesday unanimously voted to award additional funds to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.
This was in response to Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr.’s request for budget funds to be used to support his employees in the inflation-hit economy.
Despite the unanimous vote, there was initial opposition to his application due to a lack of resources and concerns about the ministry’s previously-approved funds.
Watson recently came under public scrutiny following the publication of an article in The Gainesville Sun. The article detailed how $4.8 million was awarded to all departments by the Alachua County Commission, which would be enough to give all employees a 7% pay rise and lessen the impact of inflation.
When Watson granted an increase of less than half the amount, both county officials and the public were concerned about where the rest of the money was going. That confusion turned to frustration when ACSO requested funds for the fiscal year 2023 budget at Tuesday’s district commission meeting.
Capt. Kaley Behl, ACSO’s public information officer, said before the meeting that the reason for the request was to support his deputies in the difficult economy. She also said the department is understaffed due to a lack of competitive wages, resulting in a heavier workload.
Citizens were quick to voice their concerns early in the meeting, when the district commissioners opened the floor for public comment and questions.
Pamela Paris and Sheila Payne of the Alachua County Labor Coalition spoke about the living wage issue and their dissatisfaction with what they read about the situation in the article.
“We think Sheriff Watson should take the money offered by the county commission and spend it as intended to ensure every employee in the county earns a living wage,” Paris said.
In response, Watson shot down those comments, saying they were “untrue”. He clarified that every employee at ACSO would receive the full 7% awarded by the district, regardless of hire date or seniority.
Watson gave staff 2.5% raises with the money given earlier in the year, and he said he cannot give the other 4.5% until his union agrees to absorb the additional funds from which he is convinced that they will do so.
“There were some references to where the money went,” he said. “The money is in the bank.”
Additionally, Watson said he was waiting until after the commission meeting to make the pay rises in hopes that district leaders would approve his request for additional FY23 funding.
When the motion was brought up later in the session, there was resistance. Commissioner Anna Prizzia initially rejected it due to a lack of transparency on the part of ACSO and unwillingness to cost taxpayers more money. It was also recommended by the staff not to grant the application due to the 7% already granted.
The tide turned when several sworn and non-sworn ASCO members issued statements explaining why the department needed the money. Many detailed the work they and their staff do every day, far outnumbering those in neighboring counties.
Criminal Investigations Division chief detective Lance Yaeger shared a snapshot of the number of calls the sheriff’s office received between August 2021 and 2022. For armed riots, ACSO responded to 120 while other counties responded to six. In armed robbery, 23 against four. For shots fired 385 versus 67. For domestic disputes and riots 1,304 versus 76.
“If our neighbors have 9% of our call load or call volume with a reasonable 17% risk, where would you work if you were 21 or 22?” asked Yaeger.
At the end of the public comments, the district commissioners supported the motion to allocate more funds. An additional 2.7% increase will be granted, increasing department pay from $42,000 to $47,000, on condition that ACSO works closely with district commissioners to ensure proper communication on how the budget is being managed.