Clay Commission Gives Sheriff $1.3M

Sheriff Rick Beseler Says Public Safety Would Suffer Because Of Budget Cuts

GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – The Clay County Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to restore half the money cut from the Sheriff's Office budget after Sheriff Rick Beseler said their decision would put citizens at risk for crime.

Last week, Beseler publicly questioned the decision to cut 6 percent from his budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

In September, the commission approved a budget that included $90 million in cuts -- $2.5 million to the Sheriff's Office -- along with a property tax hike. Commissioners said the cuts and tax hike were necessary because of falling property values.

Beseler said that despite rising costs, he was being asked to run the agency on $36.8 million -- the same amount he had in 2005, his first year in office. His employees have not had a raise in four years and are taking home 3 percent less after the state began collecting pension benefits this year.

In an open letter to the community, Beseler wrote the budget reduction would require the elimination of some positions and would wipe out the Sheriff's Office reserve fund that would pay for overtime and other costs of a natural disaster or major investigation. He wrote his deputies could not ensure that Clay County remain among the safest communities in northeast Florida.

At Tuesday's commission meeting, Beseler didn't say a word before the board voted to restore $1.3 million of funding to the Sheriff's Office. He said that's enough to fully fund all but seven positions currently vacant, it's not enough money to pay overtime in the event of an emergency.

"Clay County is still a very safe community," Beseler said after the vote. "With the action of the board today, we'll keep all our deputies on the street."