On June 1, 2020, Sheriff Al Nienhuis submitted the Hernando County Sheriff's Office’s (HCSO’s) proposed annual budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2020-2021, which funds Law Enforcement, Detention, and Courthouse Security. The proposed budget of $58,913,360 is 4.67% more than the FY2020 approved budget of $56,287,539.
Nienhuis reports that his expected increase in revenue is to increase by 1.28% for the coming fiscal year ($4,232,978 in 2020 to $4,287,292 in 2021).
Nienhuis reports that the HCSO “has been able to handle the additional responsibilities and supply needs associated with the coronavirus pandemic without supplemental funding.” He further added that it is his intention, as required by law, to return unused funds to the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) at the end of the fiscal year.
Also in the report, Nienhuis wrote, “I pledge to never impose unrealistic expectations on Commissioners. However, the demands of providing around-the-clock law enforcement, detention, and dispatching services require that we not only act as good stewards of tax dollars, but also that we advocate for appropriate funding of these vital public services. This requires additional investment on an ongoing basis.”
In addition to providing services to the county, HCSO houses inmates from other jurisdictions, which results in additional revenue. These services pay for 23 positions at the jail, and have paid for $758,000 of “badly needed repairs” at the jail. Furthermore, Nienhuis reports that over $1.8 million worth of jail repairs and maintenance have been possible since the inception of housing non-resident inmates since 2018, at no cost to local taxpayers.
Also reported to have minimized costs and increased “positive impact” last fiscal year include the the continued utilization of inmate labor for community maintenance, construction and clean-up projects totalling a reported 94,357 hours of labor, worth at least $798,260 to taxpayers.
The department has also instituted “Project Restart,” which uses inmate welfare funds to provide job skill training for pre-release inmates. Not funded by local taxpayers, the program resulted in 51 inmates participating last fiscal year, with 24 earning certificates and 28 gaining employment upon release. 12 inmates earned their high school diploma through the GED program. Of this group, 5 have returned to jail.
Highlighting his needs for the coming fiscal year, Nienhuis stated in his report that a higher number of HCSO employees are paid from the General Fund. “This alone results in a much larger percentage budget increase than similar BOCC operations. For instance, required employer’s contributions for DROP [Deferred Retirement Option Program] participants and for three retirement classes are increasing this year, including an 18% increase in regular class contributions.”
Continuing, he wrote, “Also, like county government collective bargaining sometimes requires certain increases. This year we are increasing specialty pay for detectives and others, to remain competitive with neighboring law enforcement agencies. Other mandated costs are increases in professional liability and vehicle insurance.”
Nienhuis reports that as far as staffing is concerned, HCSO has been “extremely cost effective and staffed at a lower level than most other counties.” Compared to nine similar counties, HCSO’s budget is 11% lower.
Hernando County continues to grow. That growth will demand additional resources from HCSO. In addition to added growth, cost-of-living salary increases, merit increases and increased insurance costs will also add to the HCSO budget.
Nienhuis mentioned several new positions in the proposed budget he would like to fill immediately, but will do so after April 1, 2021 to minimize initial cost to the county.
Please note that this article has been edited from its original version to provide minor clarfications requested by the Sheriff's Office.