NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco is convinced the steady trickle of deputies to other local agencies will give way to a flood if his department can’t provide better pay.
Over the years, the sheriff’s office has lost officers to other higher-paying, neighboring law enforcement agencies. That trend, he says, will continue to get worse.
“Pasco County, we’re in a situation where we have our members, they have to feed their families like everybody does,” Nocco said. “They have mortgages and for doing the same job, just crossing into Pinellas, crossing into Hillsborough, going to Tampa, or going somewhere else, they’re making more money.
“(The) critical situation that we’re getting into is the fact that we have other regions, other sheriff’s offices, other police departments that are hiring at a higher rate than we are. I can understand our members are leaving because they’re just weighing out the differences and what’s best for their families.”
During Thursday’s press conference, six letters of resignation were presented, three from 2014.
The sheriff’s office also released numbers detailing the loss of employees. In 2010, seven deputies left for other agencies and 13 deputies retired; In 2011, eight deputies left for another agency, while seven retired; In 2012, nine deputies left for other agencies and six retired; In 2013, 10 deputies left for other agencies, while 15 deputies retired.
A freeze on raises in Pasco County was in effect for five years until the current budget was passed in September, enacting 3 percent cost-of-living wage increases for county employees, including the Pasco Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office submitted a $93 million budget for fiscal year 2014, but $1.9 million was shaved from the sheriff’s request when county commissioners passed the budget, dropping it to $91 million.
Nocco said his agency is unable to compete with others on several levels.
Jack Mariano, chairman of the Pasco County Commission, said it’s up to Nocco to allocate that money the best he can.
“With the budget, we went through the process and for five years we struggled, not giving raises to anybody in the county,” Mariano said. “So we finally found a way to get the 3 percent back to (county employees) anyway and this coming year we’re going to look at it again, but the budget’s already done and set.
“(Nocco) has full accessibility to maneuver that money how he wants to. He doesn’t have to have all the people on traffic control. He can make other changes. He has flexibility for whatever he wants to go do.”
Thursday, Nocco held up fliers from both the Pinellas and Polk County sheriff’s offices, each advertised hiring bonuses. In Polk County, the hiring bonus is $3,000 and in Polk, the bonus is $2,000.
There is no hiring bonus in Pasco.
A deputy with many years of experience in Pasco could move to Pinellas and instantly boost their pay anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000, Nocco said.
Additionally, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office even offers a relocation stipend. If a new hire is moving from out of state, the stipend is $3,000; those from Pasco, Hillsborough or Manatee counties will receive a $500 relocation fee. Recruits from other locations in Florida will receive a $1,500 relocation stipend.
There is no relocation help in Pasco.
Mariano said the sheriff’s office is not in the situation alone. Other county offices deal with not being able to offer salaries desired by potential employees.
“The county itself is actually struggling in hiring people,” Mariano said, “because the people we’re trying to hire for the positions that are out there, they’re saying our pay is low as well. So we’ve got to try and figure that out too, so it’s not just (Nocco) doing it.”
Mariano said even though his stance may sound harsh, he and the commission as well as the sheriff’s office have a good working relationship.
He also added he admires what law enforcement members do and understands the overall goal is to maintain a safe county.
There are two extra hurdles the Pasco Sheriff’s Office faces: not paying overtime and not paying shift differential, which means a deputy could be paid more for working less desirable shifts.
If a deputy or detective works a certain amount of hours, their shift will then be tailored to keep them from going above their allotted number of hours that week, Nocco said.
That means sending deputies home early.
“I can tell you overtime pay is one of the most critical elements because for productivity as an agency and to be able to protect our citizens, it’s much better for us to be able to pay our members overtime to continuously work and make our streets safer than it is to send them home because we can’t pay them overtime.”