Amid Election Day buzz, labor union members and law enforcement agents spoke in support of a request by Sheriff Clovis Watson Jr. to receive extra employee funding.
The Alachua County Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday afternoon to give the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office $2.7 million in extra funding for the 2023 financial year. Commissioner Charles Chestnut wasn’t in attendance.
The commission already increased public departments’ budgets earlier in the year, supplying the funds to allow all employees a 7% pay increase.
Despite the ASCO already receiving the funds to do so, employees hadn’t seen a 7% pay increase, Watson said.
Watson was waiting until Tuesday’s meeting to raise employee rates, he said, in the event he could raise them by amounts larger than 7%.
The one-time $2.7 million increase will be used to further raise Alachua County Sheriff’s Office salaries, specifically in regard to deputies.
A new deputy’s starting salary would be an estimated $42,207 annually, compared to around $45,000 from adjacent, financially conservative counties, according to the ASCO’s Accounting and Budget Bureau.
District 1 County Commissioner Raemi Eagle-Glenn said more public safety funding helps keep the country's law enforcement office competitive.“I think if we focus on the deputies, we’re going to raise the ship,” she said in the meeting.
The increase in funding is part of a larger goal to get deputy salaries as high as $50,000.
The sheriff’s office returned $4.8 million to the commission in excess funds, which will go toward funding the $2.7 million increase. The sheriff also promised that any salary increases made wouldn’t require a tax increase.
The decision helped foster a tighter relationship with county law enforcement, District 2 County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler said.
“It’s a gesture in good faith,” Wheeler said. “We want to work well with the sheriff.”
After the decision, Watson guaranteed all employees regardless of rank would receive the increase.
For union members, this increase meant a victory for local employees struggling with inflation.
Bobby Mermer, Alachua County Labor Coalition coordinator, said it was assuring to hear the sheriff’s promise to maintain the 7% increase across all employees.
“We want to make sure everyone has a living wage,” Mermer said.
In the coming weeks, the sheriff’s office will meet with unions to determine how to divy up the new funding, but said in the meeting payroll increases could come as early as Nov. 23.
“Every penny that you all give us this year will go solely to the employees of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office,” Watson said in the meeting.
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Aidan Bush is a second-year journalism major and the city and county commission reporter for the Alligator. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Citrus County Chronicle. When not writing, he enjoys creating videos, water activities and spending time with his friends.