Sheriff Rick Staly wants more funding from the County Commission so that he can raise deputies’ pay. County Commissioners want to lower the property tax rate for the upcoming year, if possible.
"If we can not be competitive, because you won't fund it ... you are de facto defunding the Sheriff's Office, because we can't attract and retain employees."
— RICK STALY, Flagler County sheriff
Commissioners will have to determine if they can reconcile those demands as they meet for a series of public hearings to set the coming year’s millage rate.
A budget workshop is scheduled for Aug. 24, and the first public hearing on the tax rate begins at 5 p.m. on Sept. 7.
At the commission’s most recent regulation meeting, on Aug. 15, the audience section of the commission chambers was tinted green as dozens of uniformed Flagler County Sheriff’s Office deputies filled the room to hear Staly make his case to the commission.
Staly, at previous meetings, had asked both the County Commission and the Palm Coast City Council to fund five new deputy positions.
But on Aug. 15, he said he’d be willing to delay hiring new deputies in order to improve existing deputies’ pay.
“I’m willing to work with you, so I’m saying, ‘OK, we’ll defer the request for the five additional deputies,’” Staly told commissioners at the meeting. “Because here’s the reality: If we can not be competitive, because you won’t fund it ... you are de facto defunding the Sheriff’s Office, because we can’t attract and retain employees in this competitive market to fill vacancies.”
If the commission doesn’t grant the Sheriff’s Office sufficient funding, Staly said, that would reduce public safety, and he would appeal the county’s budget to the governor and cabinet.
The FCSO is lagging behind other area policing agencies in pay, he said, making it hard to retain staff members.
As of the beginning of the current fiscal year, the FCSO was starting its deputies at $39,570 per year. Meanwhile, the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Highway Patrol are paying $50,000, the Daytona Beach Police Department is proposing to shift to $50,500 and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office is at $48,000, Staly said. So Staly cut off the initial steps of the FCSO’s pay plan so that he could start new deputies at $46,541, he said.
“We must take care of our employees. They are delivering for this community. They are making it safer,” he said. “I asked you: Would you risk your life on a daily basis for $46,000, or even $49,000? These amazing, dedicated employees are doing just that, because we never know when they leave their house and kiss their kids or family, their wife, spouse, goodbye, are they in fact going to come home?”
County Administrator Heidi Petito said the FCSO’s funding has been outpacing the county’s population growth, increasing by $15.6 million — or 56% — from 2018 to 2022 while the county’s population had increased by 11%.
And she noted that the county government is spending millions to build a new Operations Center for the FCSO, which evacuated its previous one on State Road 100 in 2018 over concerns that the structure was a sick building.
“The budget’s still a moving target. We do have one more workshop coming up where we can iron out these details,” Petito said. “I’d like to thank the sheriff for his presentation tonight. This is the first time that I have actually seen their proposed methods to help close the gap. ... This gives us something to work with.”
The County Commission has already set a maximum millage rate for the coming year: $8.4462 per $1,000 in taxable value, County Commissioner Dave Sullivan noted.
The commission can come down from that number during future hearings, but can’t exceed it.
“I have made no decision on whether we can come off that or not,” Sullivan said. “So as this commissioner — or 20% of the board — goes, I’m still open to going up to that millage rate, if necessary.”
Commissioner Donald O’Brien said that all of the commissioners prioritize public safety.
“We’ve all said it,” O’Brien said. “There’s not one thing that we can do in this community unless we get public safety right.”
Commissioners directed Petito to work with the Sheriff’s Office to come up with proposals for the commission to consider at the Aug. 24 workshop