By BRUCE COLLIER
On Sept. 15, Walton County Sheriff Ralph Johnson sent a representative to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting on the pending budget for fiscal 2008-09, requesting an increase of $320,000 over the 2007-08 fiscal year budget. The details of that meeting are reported in another article in this issue. The new budget was tentatively approved without Johnson’s requested increase. A final budget hearing will be held on Sept. 29.
On Sept. 16, Johnson sent a memo to “Supervisors and Deputies.” The subject of the memo was “Car Fees.” The memo, in its entirety, reads:
“Effective October 1, 2008, all personnel that drive company issued vehicles home will be charged a $100.00 fee. This is to include both marked and unmarked vehicles. This $100.00 will be withheld from your paycheck.” The memo is signed by Johnson.
It was also reported in another periodical that Johnson intended to serve eight full-time and two part-time Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) employees a notice of employment termination, effective Sept. 30. That notice reportedly was to have been given last week.
WCSO Capt. Eddie Ferris confirmed the notices and memo, and said “[Johnson's] hands are more or less frozen,” adding, “If he gets the money, then nobody will get laid off.” As for the $100 vehicle fee, Ferris was not certain whether the BCC’s approval of the additional $320,000 would obviate the need to collect that fee. Ferris said that the vehicle fee, if implemented, would be a once-per-month charge.
The WCSO has listed its current number of positions, including administrative, mechanics, communications, deputy sheriffs, extradition deputies, investigators, narcotics investigators, bailiffs and school resource officers, as being 209. A Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Florida insurance group invoice for the WCSO, billed Aug. 20, 2008, shows a total of 215 insured employees, including seven bailiffs, who are paid by the state. A 2007 Criminal Justice Agency Profile report for Florida shows that Walton County has an officer-to-population ratio of 2.72 per 1,000 county residents. This is the third-highest such ratio in the state. At a July 11, 2007 meeting of the BCC, Johnson told the commission that Walton County needed a ratio of 1.5 deputies per 1,000 of county population.