Sheriff’s new budget jumps 21% as cost of public safety employees grows

File photo: Marion County Sheriff Billy Woods speaks during the No Horsin’ Around With Marion Marion County Litter Task Force press conference at the Baseline Road Trailhead in Ocala, Fla. on Friday, April 21, 2023. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2023.

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Posted October 17, 2023 | By Jennifer Hunt Murty

The Marion County Board of Commissioners have approved Sheriff Billy Woods’ $159,565,348 budget request for next year, a 21.24% increase over the prior budget year.

The sheriff’s budget has doubled since he took office in 2016; the commissioners’ budget has also doubled in that same period.

Woods has increased both the number of personnel and their wages since taking office. The department has grown from approximately 716 employees to 900 since Woods was elected.

Of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office’s employees, 45 are related to school safety across Marion County. However, the Marion County School District reimburses the sheriff’s office approximately $75,000 yearly for each school resource officer.

In his budget submittal letter, Woods identified several factors for the increase, some related to increased costs to maintain the jail, such as inmate medical and food, others were related to personnel costs.

“As mentioned in prior years, population growth in Marion County has put our staffing levels dangerously low,” Woods wrote. “Experts for the Jail and the Law Enforcement Patrol have provided staffing studies which show we are critically low in those areas. The most significant increases to the sheriff’s office budgets are because of the increases to staffing in each major area. With your help last year, I began the implementation of a 3-year plan to address these crucial staffing shortages. I trust the increases in this budget request are necessary to address the second year of the staffing plan.’’

Additionally, the sheriff’s letter said he wanted to give 6.5% raise to all employees “simply to keep up with other Sheriffs Offices, Police Departments and State Agencies throughout the State.”

Currently, the sheriff’s employees’ salaries total $54,541,360. Factoring in another 25% of costs in the form of benefits and taxes- personnel costs make up approximately 42% of the agency’s budget.

Approximately 25% of current employees make under $49,000; 44% make between $50,000 and $69,000; 16% make between $70,000 and $89,000; 9% make between $90,000 and $109,000; 3% make between $110,000 and $129,000; 2%, not including the sheriff, make between $130,000 and $160,000.

Wood’s annual salary was $204,618.00, but in the 2023-24 budget year gets bumped to $215,220.

Salaries have significantly increased for most positions at the sheriff’s office since 2015, both sworn and unsworn. For example, starting salaries for deputies have jumped from $32,735 to $47,239.

Management salaries have grown the most. For example, lieutenants were making $65,156 at the time Woods took office in 2016; those at the same rank today are paid $104,537.

When the “Gazette” shared the sheriff’s current employee roster with former county commissioner and decorated MCSO officer Jeff Gold, who previously had pressed Woods on why there were not more “patrol deputies,” he was pleased to note an increase in non-supervisory patrol personnel.

“I am happy to see the direction the agency is going in,’’ Gold said. “You can have all the theatrics and flash in the world, but when it comes to down to it you need deputies answering calls and guarding the jail to cut down on crime.”

Currently, the sheriff’s office has four people as deputy trainees. The trainees make $35,425.

“We essentially sponsor the candidate through the police academy, which is usually around six months long,’’ explained Lieutenant Paul Bloom, Public Information Director for the sheriff’s office. “Once they complete the academy, they will have a few weeks of a mini-academy with us. This mini-academy is where they learn MCSO policy and practice. They will then enter the Field Training portion, where they ride with another deputy. This is broken into four segments, with each segment allowing the deputy trainee to become more and more independent until the final phase when they are on their own. This field training is approximately four months long. So, all together, it is about 11 months from hiring to working as a deputy on their own.”

Bloom says they currently have 23 open patrol positions.

Visitors to the sheriff’s website receive this offer and a link to job openings, “SIGN-ON BONUSES! Fully-Sponsored Detention Academy: $7,500 With At Least 5 Years Of Law Enforcement Or Detention Experience $5,000 With No Prior Experience.”

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