Ocala, Florida — Since Sheriff Chris Blair was elected as Sheriff in 2012, Blair and the Sheriff’s Office have been under constant attack. The most recent attack on the Sheriff’s Office is scrutiny for the disbursement of Longevity Pay that was due to staff. Longevity pay is nothing new with the Sheriff’s Office, it has been in play since 1987.
Ocala Post personally sat down with Chief Fred LaTorre and asked him about the disbursement of Longevity Pay.
” It only seems morally fundamental to allow deputies to have their Longevity Pay before the holidays, especially since the Commission removed the possibility of raises this year, not to mention that three percent of each person’s pay is required to be paid in toward the Florida Retirement System,” Chief Fred LaTorre of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office said. He added, “How could deputies be expected to forfeit their Longevity Pay after being forced to give up an increase in pay for Cost of Living.”
Something Marion County residents should be made aware of is that Longevity Pay is not a bonus nor is it a pay raise as one has absolutely nothing to do with the other.
After reviewing Statutory Reference: Section 121.021(22), (24), and (47), Florida Statutes and FRS Rule Reference: Section 60S-6.001(11) and (16), Florida Administrative Code it is made abundantly clear that Longevity Pay is not a bonus.
Salary additives that begin early in one’s career and continue annually until retirement, although not part of the base pay, after time become a permanent part of the member’s total pre-retirement income. Because of the permanence and duration of these payments, they more closely resemble base pay compensation than bonuses. Salary additive payments should be reported to the FRS if they meet all of the following conditions (payments in this category are not considered bonuses):
- They are paid pursuant to a formal written policy of the employer which applies to all eligible employees equally:
- They begin no later than the eleventh year of employment (an exception would be a recently implemented policy where some employees already have passed the eleventh year):
- Once payments have begun, they are paid for as long as the employee continues employment; and
- The payments are paid at least annually.
In April of 1987, the Operation Directive was adopted by the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. In this directive there are certain provisions set forth for all staff of the Sheriff’s Office, it is not only for sworn deputies. As the Sheriff’s Office evolves the Operation Directive is adjusted accordingly.
It is the policy of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office to maintain a pay plan, consisting of the official ‘Salary Schedule’ of ‘Pay Grades’ and ‘Pay Ranges’, the assignment of ‘Position Classification’ to ‘Pay Grades’, and the RULES and REGULATIONS governing the administration of the pay plan.
Let’s Explain Longevity Pay for a moment:
A. Each full-time employee shall be eligible to receive Longevity Pay on his/her anniversary date; or upon the discretion of the Sheriff and availability of funding.
B. Longevity Pay shall be computed on a percentage of the employee’s annual base salary on his/her continuous service anniversary date, prior to any adjustments, as follows:
- First year anniversary through the fourth year anniversary – 1%
- Fifth year anniversary through the 9th year anniversary – 2%
- Tenth year anniversary and each succeeding anniversary – 3%
1. The employee’s annual base salary is that amount paid pursuant to the established pay plan EXCLUDING all incentive pay, overtime, cleaning allowance, specialist pay, longevity merit, or other type pay over and above the annual base salary.
C. Longevity Pay shall be paid in the pay period in which the anniversary date falls; or upon the discretion of the Sheriff.
D. Longevity Pay will not be prorated for a partial year.
E. Longevity Pay will not be used in computing an employee’s merit increase, cost-of-living adjustment, overtime pay, or any other type increase.
Discussion over the salaries paid to deputies has been a heated topic as well. Ocala Post wanted to find out just what the comparable income is to the MCSO and we compared apples to apples, not apples to oranges.
As it turns out the numbers are quite clear, and surrounding agencies are clearly higher paid for a job that is dangerous, but fundamentally necessary to keep order in the county.
Entry Deputy – $28,600
Sgt. Starting- $41,200
Lt. Starting: $47,200
Comparable Counties Average:
Entry Deputy: $36,362
Sgt. Starting: $49,820
Lt. Starting: $58,926
Marion deputies start at $7,762 less than comparable counties
Sgt. Start at $8,620 less than comparable counties; and
Lt. starts at $11,726 less than comparable counties.
Comparable counties are: Escambia, Lake, Manatee, Osceola, Pasco, Sarasota, Alachua, Brevard, Clay and Volusia
County Entry Deputy Salary Sgt. Min. Salary Lt. Min. Salary
Escambia $32,895 $41,929 $49,317
Lake $35,485 $39,033 $42,936
Manatee $39,689 $66,901 $81,368
Osceola $37,745 $46,009 $52,676
Pasco $39,382 $54,211 $72,245
Sarasota $40,000 $60,000 $65,000
Alachua $33,362 $47,213 $61,047
Brevard $36,000 $52,289 $61,154
Clay $34,650 $46,974 $54,827
Volusia $34,412 $43,647 $48,698
Average $36,362 $49,820 $58,926
Marion $28,600 $41,200 $47,200
A county Park Ranger starts out at $40,000 per year as opposed to an entry level deputy starting at $28,000. Park Rangers do not face the daily hazards that street deputies face on a regular basis. Society changes, criminals get bolder and according to experts, when those factors change, the risks deputies face grow greater.
However, the high risks are not just on the streets. The Department of Justice and the Florida Sheriff’s Association provided a strict and precise criteria to have the risk factor at the Marion County Jail evaluated. The evaluation showed that corrections officers were unable to take days off due to understaffing. The evaluation also showed the understaffing was so critical that corrections officers would have to obtain a note from a doctor, sometimes costing $30.00 for an appointment, just to get a day off in order to rest. The conclusion of the evaluation according to the Department of Justice criteria was that the Marion County Jail is dangerously understaffed and officers’ lives are being put in jeopardy all due to the lack of funding.
Ocala Post went on a field trip to the College of Central Florida Police Academy and asked Cadets one question. “With pay in mind what agency will you apply to once you graduate and pass the state exam?” The answer was, “We can tell you where we won’t apply, and that is MCSO.” With that, the Ocala Post asked why? Answer, “Because the pay scale is too low and we see how the Commission treats the Sheriff’s department.”
Additionally, the Ocala Post discovered that Gainesville PD recruits from the College of Central Florida. Gainesville PD starts certified officers at $47,450.21 and non-certified officers at $38,840.46. Posters hanging in the lobby of the Criminal Justice Center clearly show surrounding agencies start much higher in pay and some even give sign-on incentives. Ocala Post had to do a little research, but the proof is in black and white, no matter how a person looks at it.
“The number of civilian residents in Marion County that feel deputies and corrections officers are under paid and understaffed is far greater than the number of residents that are concerned about tax increases, but those same people that complain about tax increases including Commissioners, will surely dial 911 when they need help,” one resident said.
Mary Williams of Ocala wrote, “When the private sector starts responding to shots fired calls, robberies, armed burglaries and work 12 hour shifts, not seeing their families because they HAVE to work off duty details to pay their bills….then you can start comparing salaries….seems to me like everyone complains about law enforcement officers until you have to call us to solve YOUR problems. Law Enforcement Officers are under paid period. When we respond to dangerous calls we don’t hesitate we just go, our lives are put in jeopardy every day…and even if MCSO deputies were paid $48, 000 a year I don’t think that covers God forbid,if one was killed in the line of duty.”
Franco Peter wrote on Facebook to staff writer Bill Thompson of the Ocala Star Banner, “Yes Bill, it is “regular procedure”, and has been for many, many years. With you being a “Staff Writer” for the Ocala Star Banner, you would think that you would have done your homework and saw through a public records request that in the Operational Directives there is a policy regarding “Longevity Pay.” But seeing as how you don’t like to do your home work and like to make mountains out of mole hills, I wonder if your supervisors know how incompetent or lazy you really are? I am guessing you probably make more money than a deputy does Bill and you can’t even do your own investigative work to find the right answers. That says a lot about you and your salary! And YES, I will be using my well earned and deserved “Longevity Pay” for Christmas shopping. One thing that is NOT on my list is paying for a subscription to a one sided Newspaper. Because we all know what a joke it is. Happy Holidays!”
Chief LaTorre said, “Corrections officers and deputies are human just like anyone else. They have families that suffer , bills that need to be paid, and we have staff that lost their homes just like many other civilian residents of Marion County. Our deputies are supposed to be held to a higher standard as far as attitude, performance, and actions but they are still affected by everyday life just like anyone. Deputies and corrections officers can be effected by poverty just as much as the next person.”
The statement “Commissioners did eventually agree by a 3-2 margin, to a 14 percent jump in the property tax rate for the special district that funds the Sheriff’s Office’s patrol and investigation branches in order to help Blair pay those expenses handed down by the state and rebuild his reserves,” is not correct. By the board upping the MSTU millage rate they filled a 4 ½ million dollar hole the Commission and the previous administration created which allowed the Sheriff not to have to lay off any deputies. The millage increase did nothing to address the one million increase in FRS (Florida Retirement System) and one million in Medical payments that were increased as part of the ‘Obamacare’ plan, as well as the $500,000 in salaries for 10 deputies coming off of a Federal Cops Grant in January. The amounts have to be made up from the existing budget. All of the constitutional officers had to make up the Medical and FRS increase, it just happens that it is a much higher figure for the Sheriff’s Office.
The Sheriff has turned back some $950,000.00 in end of the year monies. The Sheriff has submitted a request for those funds to be returned to help offset expenses associated with equipping the new vehicles that he [The Sheriff] managed to buy out of end of the year monies, as well as to offset some of the salaries associated with the 10 deputies coming off the grant, that by the way the board is contractually responsible for under the conditions of the initial grant.
In speaking with multiple deputies who were willing to show paystubs proving that they [deputies] do not bring home an average of $48,000 per year, it is clear that the fraudulent claim is grossly absurd. Paystubs are black and white and printed in English. Chief LaTorre has been very transparent with Ocala Post and provided document after document. It didn’t take Ocala Post staff very long to figure out that all the hype is premeditated propaganda.