GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. – Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels presented his proposed budget to the Clay County Board of Commissioners at a special meeting Tuesday afternoon.
His proposed budget is $68.2 million, which would be an increase of $10.2 million.
To get the Clay County Sheriff's Office staffed to handle the county's population growth, Daniels' budget asks for 61 new employees, 25 of whom would be deputies. Though the Sheriff's Office said it is short roughly 47 deputies, Daniels said 25 deputies was the number he felt he could reasonably request.
”We can’t hire five or six. We have to take big bites -- like 20 or 25," Daniels said. "So we’re taking our biggest bite now. Next year, ask for 15. And the following year, 15, and so on and so forth.”
The current number of law enforcement officers employed is 296. The sheriff wants 321 next year, 394 in 2025 and 428 in 2030.
The sheriff said he's losing a lot of civilian employees to Naval Air Station Jacksonville and the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, both of which pay dispatchers more money. He told commissioners that he cannot compete with the pay those agencies offer.
Tina McCarty-Boike, who lives in the Tanglewood neighborhood in southern Orange Park, expressed concern over the shortage of deputies and said the department needs to be funded to fill those positions.
"That’s not good," McCarty-Boike said. "Down so many -- that’s not good."
She pointed to two recent shootings in her community, including one involving a deputy in May.
"You don’t see them out here very often until something happens," McCarty-Boike said of law enforcement.
In other neighborhoods, residents have expressed concern over the large amount of growth and whether law enforcement can keep up with the changes.
"You’re building a lot of houses. Now you’ve got the new toll road coming through here," Lake Asbury resident Kevin McCarthy said. "Their response times are definitely up, you know, when you read (news) stories."
The I-TEAM investigated the increase in response times in February, noting that deputies, on average, were taking two minutes longer to arrive at an emergency call.
Though his budget proposal appears to not ask for money to expand the Clay County jail or build a new one, Daniels still addressed it during the special meeting. He said the jail is quickly getting overcrowded.
According to the sheriff, some Sheriff's Office officials said the jail will be beyond capacity in five years, but he speculates that it could happen as quickly as five months.
The new School Board Police Department could also affect how much money is approved for the Sheriff's Office. Before this school year, school resource officers were Sheriff's Office deputies. But this spring, the School Board authorized the formation of the district's own police force.
The sheriff's budget proposal presentation did not address how the loss of those SROs impacted his needs.
Harold Rutledge, a former county commissioner who is running to be sheriff next year, responded to the Daniels' proposed budget, saying he agrees with part of the request.
Rutledge agrees with part of the request.
"We need more deputies in the street," Rutledge siad. "He needs to use his money that he gets from the taxpayer more wisely."
Rutledge also told News4Jax he thinks there’s too much money at the top of the organizational chart.
"I think he's way too much top-heavy," he said. "Some of those positions can be used to put deputies back on the street. In his proposal, he's asking for, I think, an assistant chief or chief. That's roughly $80,000. That's two more deputies. That chief position is not going to solve crime or prevent crime. It's not going to get response times down. That's money you can put back on the street."
The budget was not approved immediately. Tuesday's meeting was just the first time the sheriff detailed his budget proposal to the County Commission.