Ocala, Florida — On Tuesday, September 10, 2013, at 11 a.m., there will be a ribbon cutting at the CNG fuel station, located at 3230 SE Maricamp Road.
This will be the first CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) station in Marion County making that a total of eight in the State.
“The Marion County Board of County Commissioners is leading the way to energy independence, saving taxpayer dollars and reducing operating costs through the use of CNG,” said County Commission Vice Chairman Carl Zalak III. “This initiative puts Marion County ahead of the other counties in north central Florida and even the nation when it comes to promoting American energy that is affordable and abundant.”
The grand opening of this station is coming just two days before the Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on September 12, 2013 at 7 p.m., where citizens of Marion County are expected to express their concerns to the Board of Commissioners for their lack of positive response to Sheriff Blair’s budget proposal.
A proposal that is aimed at keeping the citizens of Marion County Safe.
Many Marion County residents are confused as to why the CNG station seems to be a bigger concern than public safety.
Ocala Post recently e-mailed Sheriff Chris Blair in regard to his budget. Blair is hoping the public as well as County Commissioners can educate themselves and fully understand the consequences of not granting the budget requests for the Marion County Sheriff’s Department.
It is no secret that citizens have mixed feelings toward law enforcement, the topic is usually swept under the rug and lost in the political agenda of elected officials. Why hide it? As a community, it should be an open discussion. Blair said he is more than willing to listen to the citizens of Marion County. Sheriff Blair said, “One of my many goals as Sheriff, is to build a better relationship with residents.” After all, community policing greatly depends on the relationship between citizens and the Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Blair said, “Do not let an experience you might 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 office.”
If the budget continues down the current path, the crime in Marion County will with certainty, get worse.
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.
Marion Oaks and Silver Springs Shores are two areas in Marion County overridden with crime, despite the glamorous commercials being pushed by the Deltona Corporation depicting Marion Oaks as it looked 30 years ago.
Blair has indicated that the MCSO has 50 percent fewer deputies per 1,000 residents than our neighboring comparable counties.
Look at the numbers! Marion Oaks alone has roughly 35,000 residents including undocumented residents. At any given time, there might only be one deputy patrolling the entire area of Marion Oaks. One Deputy for 35,000 people spread over a large area with many secluded areas within it.
From the entrance of Marion Oaks straight down Marion Oaks Boulevard is roughly a 10 mile stretch of road, and that is just one street. Imagine how much area actually needs to be covered in Marion Oaks.
Blair said the lack of deputies in Marion Oaks is not because he does not care about the area, it is not political, it is solely the lack of education for the members of the Marion County Board of Commissioners to increase the budget. An increased budget could mean more deputies. Honest residents of Marion Oaks need to be aware of the situation. Residents need to know the truth. Do not be blinded by political agenda.
Silver Springs Shores has roughly 10,000 to 15,000 residents including undocumented residents. While the population of SSS is lower than that of Marion Oaks, the crime rate is still high, and also in need of more deputies patrolling the area. Again, deputies are spread too thin due to the lack of budget to hire more deputies.
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 funds, therefore they cannot possibly be everywhere at once.
According to the sheriff’s office, the budget is not only about hiring deputies to provide more protection for the community, but also about officer safety. Sheriff Blair said officers need gear to be more proficient and protect themselves from the bad guys in the line of duty. Officers are human, not bullet proof or faster than a speeding bullet. Officers have wives, children, grandmothers, moms, and dads. If you have someone in your family that works as a police officer, deputy, or in the military; you know the importance of protective gear. No one wants that 2 a.m. call, or visit at the door from an officer with news that their loved one has been killed in the line of duty; especially if it was an increase of budget that could have saved their life.
Blair said, “My budget is not a wish list, and since taking office, I have personally met with each of the five commissioners to discuss these deficiencies. My commitment will continue to be to protect you and your family by providing top-notch law enforcement within our community and to continue taking criminals off the streets, thereby making our community a safer place to live and do business.”
Blair went on to say, “My budget asks for a small portion of what is needed to move this agency back to a position this community deserves, and I cannot, in good faith, allow my deputies and corrections officers to continue placing their lives on the line each day without doing everything in my power to ensure that they have the resources needed to effectively protect this community and each other.”
Marion County Resident Justin Davis said, “Excellent! At least one of our elected officials is not playing politics with our community’s safety!”
Daniel Rivera said, “Lack of man power increased the injuries, stress, and illness at my old department. I had to teach myself to work like three officers till I burned out. The county will spend more money on overtime, and therapy!”
Residents are starting to see the big picture, but some are not convinced, most likely due to lack of information in regards to the budget.
Blair is hoping to change [that] and hopes 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,” Sheriff Blair said.
Be sure to attend the Marion County Board of Commissioner meeting on Thursday September 12, 2013 at 7 p.m., in the McPherson complex, 503 SE 25th Avenue.
Blair said he understands the importance of the budget more than anyone.
Blair has taken politics out of the equation, and in a move rarely seen by an elected official, he is putting community and employees first.
In Chris Blair’s Words
“Over the past several months, there has been much talk about the budget I presented for the 2013-14 fiscal year on behalf of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. Upon taking office in January, my staff, along with a 70-member committee comprised of individuals from outside the agency, performed a thorough analysis of the state of the Sheriff’s Office. That review uncovered an agency in crisis, with deputy sheriffs that are under-manned, underpaid and ill-equipped to provide the level of law enforcement service our community needs and deserves.
As the new sheriff, my first budget seeks to begin addressing these issues following years of agency decay, which is the result of continuous budget cuts that have shaved $8 million dollars and 166 crucial jobs from the Sheriff’s Office since 2007.
Recently, my staff compared our Sheriff’s Office with sheriff’s offices from counties that are comparable to Marion County in terms of population and income. That study showed that our agency has more than 50 percent fewer deputies per 1,000 residents than our comparable counties and needs at least 170 new deputies.
This lack of manpower not only jeopardizes the safety of my deputies and the public when backup cannot timely arrive to assist a deputy, or a call cannot be timely responded to, but it also adversely affects the agency’s ability to assist in other public safety functions with Fire Rescue. For example, during the last year, there have been over 500 calls for assistance to Fire Rescue due to either a fire or other emergency which involved some type of domestic disturbance. In those cases, it is Fire Rescue’s protocol to stand by, away from the residence, until the property can be cleared by a deputy sheriff.
However, there have been multiple instances where Fire Rescue has had to wait 20-40 minutes for a deputy to arrive to clear the scene due to a lack of deputies. This delay places those victims at further risk and increases liability to the sheriff, the County Commission and the taxpayers.
My budget only seeks funding for 20 of these needed deputy positions as the first step of a multi-year re-staffing plan.
Furthermore, we are losing, and failing to attract, quality deputies because our starting salary is approximately $9,000 less than comparable counties. In fact, the Sheriff’s Office received minimal interest from graduates of the most recent College of Central Florida police recruit class due to the low starting pay of our deputies. This is unacceptable and, should it be allowed to continue, will reap negative consequences on this community for decades to come. My budget requests funding for an increase in starting deputy pay of $1,300 per year to allow us to attract and hire quality deputy sheriffs.
In addition, our fleet is badly aged due to lack of funding to replace patrol vehicles. In fact, if our agency used the same vehicle replacement scorecard utilized by the county, 43.4 percent of our vehicles — 245 total — would be replaced due to having more than 150,000 miles on them.
My budget requests just 50 new vehicles. However, just this past week, I requested the County Commission’s consent to move money that was already budgeted to the Sheriff’s Office for this budget year so that I could purchase 25 new vehicles, and thereby lower my budget request for next year. However, the commission denied that request.
Meanwhile, the county’s proposed budget for this upcoming year contains funding for the purchase of $4 million in new county vehicles, but the commission has been unwilling to consent to my request for funding to add any new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office.
Undoubtedly, this community has been through a significant recession; however, to say that the impact of the recession requires the Sheriff’s Office to continue cutting or flat-lining its budget is misleading. For example, over the past decade, the budget for Marion County Fire/EMS has increased at an average annual rate of 17 percent per year while the budget for the Sheriff’s Office has increased just 1.9 percent per year, on average, over that time. In fact, the Sheriff’s Office budget is $6 million less than it was in fiscal year 2006-07, before the recession, while the Fire/EMS budget is $18 million more. While I wholeheartedly endorse the funding for Fire/EMS, I believe that law enforcement deserves the same level of priority from the commission.
Over the past several years, other county departments also experienced similar, or greater, growth. Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Office budget has decreased during that same time from 20 percent of the overall county budget to just 12.8 percent. These figures show that over the past several years, funding for the Sheriff’s Office has become less of a priority to the county while funding for other county departments has become a higher priority.
The dilution in the Sheriff’s Office percentage of the overall county budget, combined with the increases in the budgets of other county departments, makes clear it is possible for the county to meet the budget needs of the Sheriff’s Office by reallocating its overall budget, or utilizing a portion of its excessive reserves, to give some priority to law enforcement without raising taxes.
My budget is not a wish list, and since taking office, I have personally met with each of the five commissioners to discuss these deficiencies. My commitment will continue to be to protect you and your family by providing top-notch law enforcement within our community and to continue taking criminals off the streets, thereby making our community a safer place to live and do business. My budget asks for a small portion of what is needed to move this agency back to a position this community deserves, and I cannot, in good faith, allow my deputies and corrections officers to continue placing their lives on the line each day without doing everything in my power to ensure that they have the resources needed to effectively protect this community and each other.”
Chris Blair is sheriff of Marion County.