MCSO: The rest of the story

 

Marion County, Ocala News, Banner, Newspaper
Photo by Ocala Post

Ocala, Florida — Recently, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office was contacted by Ocala Star-Banner reporter, Bill Thompson, with a series of questions, to which they responded with alacrity.

The Sheriff’s Office said they bent over backwards and provided very detailed answers, all of which are available through public record.

Professional Compliance Bureau Chief, Major Don Maines, requested an honest article, including truthful reporting without slanting or picking apart answers and then creating an untruthful answer just to gain readership.

“The Sheriff is trying to build a relationship with the citizens of Marion County by being transparent and we will not allow false and distorted reporting destroy that relationship,” Major Maines said.

Ocala Post utilized multiple investigative techniques to gather information in this investigative report. Additionally, Ocala Post was provided with more than 300 pages of documents, which included a lengthy report from the independent surveyor Evergreen Solutions, LLC.

In addition to Evergreen Solutions, information was gathered from other independent sources such as Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), articles previously written by Ocala Post, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, public records, county meeting records, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and other miscellaneous sources.

The actual story:

In a letter dated May 29, 2014, it reads:

Dear Chairman Zalak:

I respectfully submit the attached budget request for fiscal year 2014-2015. While I am keenly aware of the commissions’ stance on increasing taxes, after intense consideration, I have submitted a budget based on the 5-year strategic planning scenarios that were submitted to the commission earlier in May. I have chosen to base this year’s budget request on the scenarios that would be considered not the best options or the worst options, but will, at a minimum, begin addressing the critical needs that are present at the Sheriff’s Office. It is also prudent to mention that should a public safety sales tax be adopted, it may reduce up to 5.7% of this budget proposal from the budget funded by ad valorem millage rates. As required by Statute, the following is the Sheriff’s Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2014-2015:

TOTAL SHERIFF’S BUDGET $7,753,025.

Respectfully Submitted,

Sheriff Blair

###

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Administrative Bureau Chief Gregg Jerald said,” The budget request was not for $8 million or even $10 million, which Thompson had previously reported; the actual figure was $7.7 million.”

Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer, Captain James Pogue, said, “Sheriff Blair is trying to emphasize the importance of public safety and get the public to understand that our lack of funds is a very serious problem.”

He said regardless of the fact that recent reports incorrectly noted the base pay for starting deputies —the real issue should have been focused on call for service response times.

Captain Pogue said the information was provided; however, the facts were not used.

According to documents provided to Ocala Post, not only was vital information ignored, but it also seemed to have been purposely misconstrued in the Ocala Star-Banner’s recent article.

Jerald claims answers to questions that were asked of the Sheriff’s Office by Thompson, which apparently did not fit the agenda-driven story, were simply ignored by Thompson and not printed in the article that was published.

Liabilities:

Sheriff Blair was recently accused of “backpedalling” on the issue of accrued sick leave, namely the accrued sick leave totaling $160,000 for two of Sheriff Blair’s key advisors.

When Chief Deputy Fred LaTorre and Major Tommy Bibb came out of retirement following Sheriff Blair’s election, he reinstated their sick leave that they had accumulated prior to their retirement. The sick leave does in fact total $160,000 on paper.

However, according to both Jerald and Captain James Pogue, their sick leave does not hold any cash value.

Jerald said, “It’s not like they get to cash out on the sick leave and walk away with $160,000 if they retire. It absolutely has no cash value… sure, it’s on the books for accounting reasons, but they cannot cash out on the sick leave and walk out the door with $160,000.”

Jerald further pointed out that Thompson used the sick leave attack without ever giving the Sheriff’s Office notice or the opportunity to explain how the accrued sick leave works prior to the writer utilizing the assertion in order to project a poor reflection on the Sheriff.

Response Time:

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) receives approximately 700 to 800 calls per day, and many times those calls are held in a queue — unable to be dispatched — due to the lack of deputies on the road.

Marion County Sheriff’s Office Communications Director Karl Oltz says that calls for service are being held on a daily basis.

Jerald said not only did Thompson fail to speak with Oltz as a part of his “Watch Dog” article as Captain Pogue suggested he should, but he also failed to address the significant response time in the section of his article entitled “Response Times.”

“This issue is real,” said Captain Pogue.”

Although Sheriff Blair was elected in 2012, the Sheriff’s office cited a case from 2009 in which a deputy was shot and waited ten (10) minutes for backup to arrive. Pogue said Thompson made it seem as though the 2009 case was not relevant due to the fact it was several years ago, and again used that as an opportunity to “pounce” on the Sheriff’s Office in the aforementioned article.

“The 2009 case was specifically utilized to tie back a quote of former Sheriff Dean, showing that this is a problem that has existed for many years and it is not something new to this agency. These problems have existed for years,” said Jerald.

The public should know the frightening truth about the wait time for a deputy to arrive after a call to 911 has been placed; while keeping in mind it is due to budget constraints that have created a serious lack of man power.

Ocala Post requested dozens of cases in which response time was critical to the survival of the victim. The least amount of wait time for a deputy to arrive to a serious call for service was 12 minutes with the longest time being 42 minutes. And while the overall average time is just slightly over 11 minutes; the Sheriff’s Office said it should be much lower.

Many of the cases involved domestic battery, home invasions, and a robbery of a business during regular business hours. All cases Ocala Post examined were from the past 12 months, with an increase in violent crimes in the past six months, as well as multiple shootings — some involving death — within the last three months.

In Marion Oaks, two males kicked in the front door while a 16-year-old girl was home alone. She ran and hid in a closet, simultaneously texting her dad, telling him two intruders had entered their home. The dad was 15 minutes away. He dialed 911 but deputies were 25 minutes away. Meanwhile, the intruders found the girl and planned to rape her while holding a large caliber handgun to her head. Moments later, the girl’s father pulled into the yard and chased the suspects away, but not before they fired multiple shots at him. Deputies finally arrived on the scene, but the suspects were long gone.

This is just one of many, many stories that take place in Marion County on a daily basis.

Some have mocked the aforementioned examples, sarcastically calling them “shocking stories,” while a reasonable person with common sense would call it a tragedy waiting to happen.

The population of Marion County is approximately 335,008, and while Marion County is shared with three other law enforcement agencies, the Sheriff’s Office essentially has jurisdiction throughout the entire county and is solely responsible for the approximately 81 percent of residents that live in unincorporated Marion County. According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, if a person were to subtract the citizens within the other agencies’ jurisdictions, it still leaves approximately 271,000 residents to be protected by the Sheriff’s Office.

Marion Oaks alone contains approximately 35,000 residents, and is one of the most crime-ridden communities in Marion County. Often times, there is only one deputy to patrol the entire area. Same as with the Ocala National Forest, where calls for service may have wait times of 30 minutes or longer. Long deputy response times are not just prevalent in these two districts.

“Residents have the right to know the facts and we provided those facts…they were just misrepresented in the Star-Banner’s article in order to fit the writer’s agenda,” said Major Don Maines.

How many times have you heard someone say, “Where’s a cop when you need one?” Well, they are spread thin due to lack of budget; therefore, they cannot possibly be everywhere at once in a county over more than 1,600 square miles — the fifth largest by land mass in the state of Florida.

Budget, Salary and Taxes

A main concern of residents is over the increase of property taxes.

One person wrote, “When Blair ran, he promised there would not be an increase in taxes. He needs to work with former Sheriff Ed Deans budget.”

Jerald said, “We were asked about the budget, salaries, and the half-cent sales tax increase and we provided the answer. However, once again, the answer was not used, but instead “tweaked” to support an agenda.”

“In the last paragraph of the Star-Banner article it was written so as to lead the reader to believe that Blair was not intelligent enough to make a public records request while running for sheriff in 2012. The writer wrote, ‘presumably the information would have been available to Blair through a public records request,’” said Jerald.

Jerald added, “Blair did make a public records request, and that information was also provided to Thompson during our two-hour meeting regarding the answers to his questions. In fact, Thompson was specifically told during the meeting that all information Blair utilized as a candidate was information provided to him by the Sheriff’s Office through a public records request.

“Additionally, quotes from the Sheriff’s Office were taken from answers to certain questions and then used as answers with questions the quotes did not belong with. Completely altering the actual responses,” said Jerald.

Documentation provided to Ocala Post shows that a public records request was made and the information received by then candidate Blair was provided by the previous administration of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. However, that information conveniently left out the fact that there was a $4.5 million deficit in the MSTU budget, which funds the Sheriff’s Office patrol and investigative functions.

Citizens want to know why Sheriff Blair promised no taxes, yet the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) raised the MSTU tax in 2013, and now Sheriff Blair has proposed a half-cent sales tax. At the same time, others want to know why the Sheriff’s Office called the MSTU increase a victory.

Answer:

A candidate running from outside the agency does not have all of the information that someone inside the agency would have, and much of the information was not made known — in regards to the condition of the MCSO during the campaign — for obvious reasons.

Soon after taking office, Sheriff Blair met with County Budget Director Michael Tomich, who for the first time advised the Sheriff that there was a $4 million hole on the MSTU budget for the current fiscal year.

Jerald said, “This hole would have meant laying off a significant number of deputies and was not something Sheriff Blair had any knowledge of as a candidate, nor could he.”

“It was a victory for our community that the MSTU was raised so that a mass deputy layoff did not occur. Had those deputy layoffs occurred, the MCSO would be at, or very near, the bottom of the state in terms of deputy strength — despite having the fifth largest county in square mileage to control. It would have been a disaster for the agency, as well as for the community; so, yes, it was a victory,” Jerald said.

Commissioner Kathy Bryant noted in the final budget hearing that they (the BCC) had charged on a credit card for years and now was the time to pay the bill.

The $4 million deficit occurred due to using reserves, carry-forwards, and other means to fill the hole on the MSTU budget — due to declining property values while keeping the millage rate flat. Even during those years, the BCC found ways to fill the hole to avoid the mass deputy layoffs that would have otherwise resulted.

Thereafter, as Commissioner Bryant stated, it was time to “pay the credit card” as there was no money (reserves, carry-forwards, etc.) to continue filling the MSTU hole that had been dug during the preceding years. Had this hole not existed, and the Florida Retirement System (FRS) and medical expenses not risen $1.8 million, the Sheriff would have been able to hire additional deputies without an increase in the MSTU. In fact, had the commission not required the Sheriff to absorb the $1.8 million in retirement and health increases, the Sheriff would have been able to keep his campaign pledge by hiring approximately 30 to 35 deputies with the funds he saved from not replacing supervisors.

However, the Sheriff had no control, or knowledge, of either issue as a candidate. Had the true state of the MSTU been honestly presented, or reported, during the years leading up to the 2012 election, it is very likely that the campaign, and the promises of the candidates, would have been different.

Jerald said the reasoning behind the half-cent sales tax is simple — given the significant hole that has been dug at the MCSO (at no fault of the current administration) from having capital funding stripped from its budget, and the huge amount of pent-up capital needs, the Sheriff thought a potential half-cent sales tax was a better option rather than those expenses being placed on the backs of property owners.

The Sheriff believes a sales tax is a more equitable means of finding these needs than a property tax and that was the driver behind the sales tax proposition.

It should also be noted that under the previous administration, former Sheriff Ed Dean and Jerry Holland were the only two people with access to the budget, according to Captain Pogue.

There was no system of checks and balances as there has been under the direction of every other sheriff.

Captain Pogue said that it has always been customary for each bureau chief to have control over their own budget, that way each department would know if they were allowed over time or if there was room for new equipment.

“Instead of Dean purchasing new equipment, cars, or hiring new deputies, he was returning “turn-back” monies to be used for the following year’s budget. He did that for years, and that is how the deficit came to be,” Captain Pogue said.

“When former Sheriff Dean was appointed, he took it away from each individual department. Ultimately removing the system of checks and balances,” said Captain Pogue.

He went on to say, “No one in the office knew about the $4.5 million dollar deficit because the previous administration was not very transparent. Now that the Sheriff’s Office is transparent we have exposed the deficit, deteriorating equipment, patrol cars, and a serious lack of man power.”

Captain Pogue insists the MCSO no longer conducts business like that.

Salary and Staffing Levels (attracting new deputies):

According to data provided by the FDLE, the Marion County Sheriff’s Office is currently in the bottom ten (10) for lowest starting salaries out of all Sheriff’s Offices in Florida.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office is actually ranked number six (6) for lowest paying. And out of the bottom ten (10), Marion County by far has highest population.

ocala news, marion county, mcso
[Click on photo to enlarge]
According to the FDLE, in 2010 the Marion County Sheriff’s Office was 12th lowest in terms of starting salary.

The Sheriff’s Office declined to the seventh (7th) lowest in 2012 and are currently sixth (6th) lowest as Jackson County has raised their starting salary to $30,719 and the 2012 FDLE numbers misstate the MCSO starting salary as $28,600 rather than the actual $28,520 – although FDLE numbers have not been updated for 2013 or 2014. Accordingly, the Sheriff’s Office is currently sixth (6th) lowest – 61st lowest out of 67 counties — in terms of starting salary.

However, as you can see from the significant drop from 12th to 6th lowest in the last four years, should starting salaries remain the same, the Sheriff’s Office can expect to be at or near the bottom within the next several years. Moreover, when speaking about the ability to attract new deputies it must also be pointed out that the counties with lower starting salaries than Marion have an average population of 14,464 – or about 4.5 percent of the people that reside in Marion County.

By comparison, Manatee County, the county with the closest population numbers to Marion, starts deputies at $39,689. Moreover, even within our own county, the Ocala, Dunnellon, and Belleview police departments all have starting salaries well above the MCSO. Even Marion County park rangers have starting salaries of $42,000. In this environment, the MCSO is uncompetitive to attract deputy sheriffs.

Major Maines said, “Logically, Marion County cannot be compared to Pasco or Lee County, as set forth in the Thompson article as comparable counties, as their populations are much greater.

Lee County: 645,293

Pasco County: 470,391

Many agencies offer signing bonuses and a moving allowance. This is in addition to a much higher starting annual salary plus benefits as compared to MCSO. Other agencies can offer attractive salaries and incentives because there budget allows it. And as with any agency, they offer higher salaries to those with higher education, experience, or both.

The Gainesville Police Department, who recruits from the College of Central Florida Criminal Justice Institute, offers a very attractive starting salary, again, because their budget allows for it.

ocala news, marion county
Provided by the Gainesville PD website [Click on photo to enlarge]
Major Maines said, “I don’t blame cadets for applying to other agencies. No one wants to get paid $28,520 when they could be making $10,000 more a year somewhere else.”

Evergreen Solutions, LLC, a group based out of Tallahassee noted that because of the low salary levels, it would have a significant impact on the agency’s ability to attract, and retain, qualified deputies. Evergreen evaluated the Marion County Sheriff’s Office against 15 other agencies and agreed that the Sheriff’s Office, taking the population and square mileage of Marion County into consideration, is by far the lowest paid agency.

This has been Sheriff Blair’s point from the beginning.

Jerald reiterated the fact by saying, “We are losing deputies to other agencies…even after we have hired them. We just lost a deputy to the Lady Lake Police Department, two to FDLE, and one to Sunrise PD. Even after a deputy is hired they continue looking for higher pay.”

When asked if the MCSO has had many applicants, Chief Fred LaTorre said, “Sure, we get applicants…that have usually been fired from other agencies. And we will not lower our standards by hiring deputies that have a questionable work ethic.”

Boots on the Ground:

Sheriff Blair maintains that correcting the man power shortage within his agency in an effort to protect Marion County Residents is a top priority.

It was mentioned that FDLE data from 2010 through 2012 indicated that MCSO’s ratio was about one (1) deputy per 1,000 residents. It increases to 1.5 per 1,000 deputies if “concurrent” deputies are counted.

Initially, Blair said he needed to hire 286 new patrol deputies to align the county’s deputy-to-population ratio with the state average and told the County Commission in May 2013 and July 2013 that the ratio was .71 deputies for each 1,000 county residents, relative to the state average of 1.7 per 1,000 people.

Answer:

There is not a Sheriff’s Office that uses “concurrent” deputies in determining their deputy strength. The concurrent number includes those individuals who have Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) certification but are in the jail for whatever reason – whether career choice or by assignment. The state average figure is also not the “concurrent” number.

During 2013, the state average dropped to 1.6 per 1,000. Today, it would require the hiring of 171 deputies immediately, to reach the state average.

In 2013, when the Sheriff spoke of adding 286 deputies, which was in reference to what it would take to align Marion County with comparable counties that have more than 1,400 square miles (those counties: Volusia, Brevard, and Osceola average 2.0 per 1,000). The .71 per 1,000 figure is, again, just another way of quantifying where the MCSO stands for deputy strength.

“The .71 per 1,000 comes from what they consider their actual “boots on the ground” – deputies at the rank of sergeant and below, of which they have 191. The 191 “boots on the ground” out of the unincorporated population of 271,000 is .71 deputies per 1,000. That is a more realistic quantification of the real man power they have,” said Jerald.

Jerald said the .71 per 1,000 figure is not used more often because they don’t have the means to compare that to other agencies as it is not something FDLE tracks.

You could also look at national and regional staffing data, which indicates that the average southern law enforcement agency with population exceeding 250,000 should have 2.55 deputies per 1,000. To reach this number would require the MCSO to add 425 new deputies. There are numerous ways to benchmark where you are at as an agency in terms of deputy strength.

As a result, for benchmarking purposes we have tended to regularly use the FDLE numbers as that is the only source for benchmarking our agency against others in the state.

Murders/Homicide:

It was inferred that Sheriff Blair lied about the amount of homicides that have happened in Marion County by stating there were 20 when there were allegedly only eleven (11) handled by the Sheriff’s Office.

According to FDLE Public Information Officer Samantha Andrews, homicides and murders are two separate entries when tallying up a body count. She said that is because homicide and murder do not share the same definition. Therefore, when considering the body count, both homicide and murder must be factored into the equation as they are listed separately on FDLE’s crime statistics.

In other words, if a county had thirteen (13) homicides and seven (7) murders; then the body count would actually be 20, not 13.

Andrews said each agency submits an UCR (Uniform Crime Report) along with a Supplemental Homicide report with an assigned case number per incident. Each incident is then broken down and the victims counted. Sometimes there would be two report numbers per incident because that one case may have contained two victims. Additionally, Andrews said, the information used by FDLE is submitted by each individual agency. In other words, if an agency fails to report crimes then FDLE does not factor in that section in the crime statistics.

“People want to question why Blair took credit for a slight decrease in crime, yet the second crime increases, those same people want to blame him. Marion County residents should have the facts and not be misled,” said Major Maines.

“The fact is that during Sheriff Blair’s first year in office crime in Marion County was down 5.1 percent — a feat only accomplished three times during the 14 years of the prior administration,” said Major Maines.

Some have also tried to mislead the public into believing that the crime index in Marion County has steadily been declining since 2000 and cited sex crimes as the main category that has decreased.

Answer:

A person cannot compare sex crimes as a stand-alone category to make a larger argument about the index crime rate. This is because the index crime rate only tracks “forcible rape” and does not take into account any other type of sex crime (i.e., molestation, lewd act with a minor, statutory rape, lewd and lascivious acts, sex assault, child pornography, exhibitionism, groping, human trafficking, indecent exposure, prostitution, sexual harassment, etc.).

As the Sheriff noted, “sex crimes” as a category was up in 2013 as compared to 2012. Moreover, the Sheriff did lower crime during his first year in office. In his first year, the crime index was down 5.1 percent in Marion County and the actual crime rate was down even further – by 5.7 percent as reported by FDLE. By comparison, between 2000 and 2012 the average crime rate reduction was 4.2 percent with only three (3) out of those 13 years having greater crime rate decreases than experienced by Marion County during Sheriff Blair’s first year in office. Therefore, given these remarkable results, a reasonable person would look to see if anything was done differently.

The Sheriff’s creation and use of the “Fugitive Apprehension Unit” and the “Tactical Investigations Unit” were significant changes and driving factors in the decrease during the Sheriff’s first year in office at a rate that exceeded the state average.

In fact, just using the FAU as an example, outstanding arrest warrants were decreased by 23 percent during Sheriff Blair’s first year in office. That was 23 percent fewer criminals with warrants for their arrest who were on the streets of Marion County and out recommitting crimes. That, in and of itself, would contribute to lower crime.

Sex crimes can be up with an overall decrease in the index crime rate, which tracks several different crimes. Both stats can be true and it is rare that all categories of index crime would be universally up or down.

It should also be cautioned against relying heavily on the reported index crime rate as the sole indicator of law enforcement service or needs.

As stated in the five-year plan, there were 4,942 index crimes during 2013 – accounting for only about 2 percent of the total calls for service to the MCSO. The index crime rate does not take into account most drugs cases, domestic calls, fleeing & eluding, most sex crimes, and a large number of other felonious activities.

Captain Pogue said Sheriff Blair has strengthened the agencies relationship with probation and parole officers.

“They can now call and let our agency know they are going to violate someone and we pick that person up immediately…usually within 24 hours,” Pogue said. He added, “They are no longer walking the streets to commit other crimes.”

Top Heavy (previous administration)

As a candidate in 2012, Sheriff Blair talked about the former administration having too many chiefs and not enough Indians. Former Sheriff Dean was paying his “top staff” of 21 people $2.3 million, and it was recently said that it was Sheriff Blair’s “Battle Cry.” (Referring to an article printed in the Ocala Magazine).

Some have criticized Sheriff Blair, citing the number was $1.97 million; a difference of $330,000.

Answer:

Any information used by the Sheriff during the campaign was information provided to his campaign by the Sheriff’s Office pursuant to a public records request. Jerald said he would suspect that the numbers might be $300,000 or so off as they may reflect salaries for those positions, but not include benefits (health, retirement, etc.) which all go into total compensation.

In any event, Jerald said, “Blair cannot be blamed for information that was provided to him by the agency as a candidate. Moreover, the Ocala Magazine article did not quote the Sheriff as saying his campaign ‘battle cry’ had anything to do with the pay of the ‘top 21’ employees at the agency, but rather, the Ocala Magazine article states that the ‘battle cry’ was that ‘there were too many supervisors at the top of the Sheriff’s Office; Dan Kuhn, his Republican counterpart, being one of them.’”

The Sheriff has held true to that campaign promise by eliminating approximately 24 supervisory positions within the MCSO since taking office. The 2012 Command Staff Listing depicts 21 positions under the title “Sheriff’s Senior Command Staff” under the previous administration.

Sheriff Blair’s current roster under the title “Sheriff’s Executive Staff” reflects 14 members. Sheriff Blair has addressed his pledge to reduce the top heaviness of the agency during his tenure. As noted, he has eliminated 24 supervisory positions and cut those positions associated with senior/executive level staff.

Simply comparing the top 21 positions from the previous administration to those of the current administration does not reflect a true picture and does not reflect the “battle cry” of candidate Blair in 2012, which focused on the top-heaviness that existed at that time in the Sheriff’s Office.

The Blair administration has eliminated supervisory positions as candidate Blair promised! The Sheriff’s current 21 highest paid employees are paid a cumulative $1.92 million; however, by year-end, three (3) captains currently on that list will be gone from the agency, which will lower the top 21 paid positions further down to $1.88 million. Accordingly, by year-end the Sheriff’s top 21 paid positions will be down between $100,000 and $120,000 from the top 21 paid positions under the former administration. With additional retirements in the next couple of years, numbers will continue to decrease. As set forth above, this decrease in the salaries of the top 21 employees is on top of the approximately $1.8 million that has been saved through the elimination of 24 supervisory positions since Sheriff Blair assumed office.

Comparing Apples to Oranges

Commissioner Stan McClain claims that the Sheriff’s Office had been “well-funded” in recent years.

Blair stated that the agency has lost 39 percent in revenue.

It was recently inferred that the Sheriff’s Office only declined 12 percent in revenue in comparison to the court clerk, elections supervisor, property appraiser, and tax collector.

Answer:

The numbers about the comparisons among other constitutionals is not appropriate, as those offices do not perform the same service as the MCSO and are not 24/7 operations that deal with protecting the public. During the Okeechobee County appeal hearing in Tallahassee, upon questioning by the Board, the Okeechobee BCC had to concede that law enforcement is fundamentally different from the other offices and could not be compared to one another.

That being said, despite Commissioner McClain’s statement that the MCSO has been well-funded – that is not the case. In fact, the MCSO received 17.7 percent of the overall county budget in 2000, but by 2013, that number was down to 13.3 percent. If the MCSO was still receiving 17.7 percent of the county budget, it would receive $92.3 million in funding – approximately $25 million more than its current budget.

However, between 2000 and today, the funding priorities within county government changed to place less monetarily in law enforcement and more in other county services and offices.

As another comparison, our neighboring counties’ Sheriff’s Offices average 16.3 percent of the total county budget, which, if that same funding level was appropriated to the MCSO, would give the agency a nearly $85 million budget – approximately $18 million more than its current budget. As for the other constitutionals, while the Sheriff’s Office has lost approximately 4.5 percent of its share of the total county budget since 2000, the other constitutionals have remained relatively flat as a percentage of the total county budget with the largest decrease at the tax collector being down approximately 0.7 percent during that time period.

Commission Broke the Law:

County Attorney Guy Minter accused Sheriff Blair of using Florida Statute 30.49(4) out of context. This statue addresses the Career Service Act.

However, the statute clearly states that the BCC must, at a minimum, fund the entire Sheriff’s operations from the prior year. The commission is free to reduce the “proposed” budget but not the Sheriff’s “actual” budget below the previous year.

Jerald said,” If the language was so clear as stated by Minter, then why would the legislature have even included the last sentence in that subsection? They could have ended the subsection without including the last sentence, but they did not.”

He went on to say, “The reason, we believe, is a recognition by the legislature of the importance of the public safety to be immune from political winds or economic distresses that could imperil funding for public safety. This law has not been argued in court at this point, however, there are a number of Sheriff’s who are interested in this being heard by a court when appropriate.”

Interestingly enough, Jerald said the day after Sheriff Blair accused the commission of violating the Career Service Act, Commissioner Kathy Bryant showed up at the Sheriff’s Office to meet with Sheriff Blair on a Budget Compromise that would require the commission to do something they said they would never do — raise the MSTU.

Comments from Sheriff Blair:

Sheriff Blair is hoping that Marion County residents will see through the politics and voice their opinions. “The entire community needs to come together and help our Sheriff’s Department win this battle because it affects the community as a whole,” he said.

In September of 2013, Sheriff Blair told Ocala Post, “Do not let an experience you may have had with one deputy hinder your opinion of the Sheriff’s Department as a whole. To do so would not be fair to yourself, the community, or the Sheriff’s Department.”

He also said citizens need to make it personal and take control of the situation. Ask yourself, can you protect your family if deputies are 45 minutes away from your home during a home invasion?

Criminals often prey on the helpless. The Department of Justice conducted a survey among prison inmates and researcher Gary Kleck proved that 92 percent of criminal attacks are against citizens that are helpless or for some reason cannot defend themselves. Criminals are cowards; they will always prey on the weak.

The Sheriff’s Office asked some very good questions of their own.

Why was the previous administration never questioned by the Star-Banner or Thompson about their handling of the budget and their lack of a checks and balances system — all the while allowing the condition of the agency to deteriorate?

And why is the Sheriff’s Office being drilled with questions about an election campaign from 2012, as well as being questioned about things that happened under the previous administration?

It is apparent to the Sheriff’s Office that public safety has been reduced on the Commission’s list of priorities.

The Marion County Sheriff’s Office warns that if they continue to be understaffed due to lack of budget, residents will pay the ultimate price.

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