In a meandering 27-minute video posted to social media Monday, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan asked county commissioners to raise property taxes in order to fund pay raises for deputies.
Morgan is locked in budget battle with the commissioners, who have refused to give Morgan an additional $3.5 million for pay raises due to the county’s $9 million budget shortfall. The Sheriff’s Office has said that low salaries are driving a “brain drain,” with deputies leaving for higher-paying jobs elsewhere.
While Morgan is an independent constitutional officer, the sheriff’s office budget is largely funded by county taxes and is subject to the approval of the five-member county commission. Morgan has threatened to appeal directly to Florida Governor Rick Scott if commissioners don’t approve the raises.
In the video, Morgan said the county needs to stop building community centers and parks and instead focus on what he called “basic infrastructure.”
“Law enforcement, fire, EMS, flood remediation, and the jail,” Morgan said. “Those things alone are enough to keep five commissioners very busy if you did it and did it right.”
Morgan blamed the budget shortfall on the county’s 2013 decision to take over the management of the Escambia County Jail, which had previously been under the sheriff’s management. The following year, the jail’s Central Booking & Detention facility exploded due to a natural gas explosion, killing two inmates and injuring more than 150 inmates and staff. Subsequent costs, including the cost of housing inmates in out-of-county facilities, have drained the county’s finances.
“And so I think you’re faced with a situation here, as to where you have no choice but to increase the ad valorem taxes, because you’re telling me the money is just not there.” Morgan said. “And so I will tell the citizens of Escambia County that I am asking for the Board of County Commissioners to raise taxes in order to fund law enforcement, fire department, and EMS — basic social emergency services — and to bring the pay in line with the rest of the state.
Morgan, who is currently serving his third term in office, said that commissioners could place the blame on him if they wanted.
“Someone has to show some courage,” he said.
If he doesn’t get the additional funding he’s requested, Morgan said he’d be forced to cut services such as funeral procession escorts, placing resource officers in local schools, and providing courthouse security.
Throughout the video, Morgan lobbed insults toward the five commissioners, at one point blaming the budget situation on the commissioners’ “inept mismanagement.”
Morgan criticized Commissioner Grover Robinson for a lack of awareness about crime statistics in a recent meeting.
“[Robinson] is a third-term sitting county commissioner,” Morgan said. “We brief this every year. So that’s clearly indicative of that I have a county commissioner who probably pays little to no attention to law enforcement issues within the county that he serves.”
Robinson was out of town Tuesday and was not available to comment.