Sheriff to “maintain transparency” with public meeting to discuss 2018-19 budget

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen will be presenting a Town Hall Meeting with the focus being to host a discussion for the agency’s 2018-19 budget on Wednesday, June 27, between 6-7 p.m. at the Okeechobee County Historic Courthouse in the Okeechobee Board of County Commissioners Chamber Room 122.

The event will be broadcast live on the Board of County Commissioners website www.co.okeechobee.fl.us.

In an interview on June 19, Sheriff Stephen gave an insight to the June 27 discussion stating, “With this town hall meeting I want to maintain my transparency, take input and discuss what needs to happen with our agency with members of the community. The budget that I’ve submitted for 2018-19 is a little over a 14 percent increase. Almost 8-9 percent is to adjust the starting salary of the deputies and changing the starting pay has to be consistent through to the rank of lieutenant. Three percent of the increase is due to the recent state mandated School Resource Officer requirement. Less than 3 percent will be to bring on an additional seven staff members, with three to be dispatchers, two on the Criminal Apprehension Team (CAT), an additional crime scene evidence technician along with a detention deputy for the jail.”

The sheriff explained that the CAT focuses on high burglary, theft, traffic violation and general problem areas in the community faced by law enforcement.

Sheriff Stephen continued, “I know the struggle with the 14 percent increase is going to be very hard for people to accept, but the problem is that we are losing our average 5-6 year employees to agencies that can provide them with $15,000 more per year. I understand we can’t pay what the coastal agencies do — that we are losing our deputies too — but if I can at least half-way bridge the gap, from currently losing two deputies per month to one per month, that will be a considerable cost savings to the tax payers of the county and to the agency.”

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Annual Criminal Justice Agency Profile Report from the 2015 year, with the exception of Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, Polk, Osceola, Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin and Glades County Sheriff’s Offices all paid their deputies more than Okeechobee. In 2017 Highlands County surpassed Okeechobee which has maintained a steady $34,000 entry salary.

“I’ve estimated the cost to train a 3-5 year deputy, the investment the county has in them at that point, equates to approximately $75,000 per year. These 3-5 year deputies are just getting to the point where they are operating efficiently,” stated the sheriff.

Currently there are four road patrol shifts with 10 deputies per shift. Of the 40 front-line call-taking deputies, over half of them have less than one year of experience.

Sheriff Stephen further explained, “Bridging the gap I feel will be cost effective to the tax payers and beneficial to the sheriff’s office. By offering an additional $6,000 to our new hires, it will make us competitive with the adjacent counties that our deputies are leaving for. I feel in the long run our sheriff’s office will run more efficiently, effectively and economically.”

Sheriff Stephen capped off his statements during the interview, “The purpose of this meeting is to inform the public. I know not everyone will agree, and I understand the sustainability concerns, but as the sheriff I feel this is necessary and something that needs to be discussed in order for us to work together.”

For additional information contact Connie Curry at 863-763-3117 ext. 5022 or email at ccurry@okeesheriff.com

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