Hernando County Sheriff sues county commission over budget

The Hernando County Sheriff is taking his budget complaints to Tallahassee, after failed communications with county commissioners.

On Monday, Sheriff Al Nienhuis announced he filed for an independent review of the 2016-2017 budget with Governor Rick Scott's Office.

"I must exercise my duty, my duty to the citizens of Hernando County, to appeal my budget to the Governor and the Cabinet," said Nienhuis.

In September, the Board of County Commissioners approved a $103.6 million budget, excluding Sheriff Nienhuis' request for a $1.7 million increase in the sheriff's office's budget, in addition to $300,000 for "rainy day" funds.

The Sheriff claims little explanation was given for the denied budget increase.

He said the county will have revenue of $2.2 million included in the upcoming budget, little of which would have to be used for his budget increase.

"We tried earnestly to work with them, despite their ongoing failure to communicate, their failure to collaborate and their failure to negotiate," said Nienhuis.

Nienhuis recently filed a lawsuit against the BOCC disputing the budget approval, but he said he decided to seek help from the governor's office because the lawsuit process was not moving quickly enough.

"We're still hitting what I believe is a brick wall," said Nienhuis.

He said he is concerned that without the money, HCSO will not be able to fund several "mission-critical positions," such as hiring a new detective to monitor sexual predators, a mental health worker in the jail and an extra K-9 officer.

Under the review, the governor's office would compare the funds HCSO is operating with to other similar sized agents to determine if it is fair.

Attempts to reach Hernando County Commissioners via phone and email on Monday afternoon were unsuccessful.

Jeff Holcomb, a commissioner who is currently on leave due to deployment by the US Navy Reserve, responded by email.

Holcomb said due to his absent, he did not vote on the current budget, but he supports the Sheriff.

"I don't believe this has been an honest and open budget process," said Holcomb. "The Sheriff requested an increase of $1.7 million, but he also returned over $800,000 to the commission, and they didn't even increase his budget by the amount he returned, $800,000," added Holcomb.

Holcomb added, "I support the Sheriff and all of Hernando Counties first responders. I am very disappointed that our county has gotten to this point, and I look forward to fixing this issue when I return."

A similar budget appeal was filed by former Pasco Sheriff Bob White in 2010, when his request for an additional $4 million was denied.

White ultimately reached an agreement with the county in February of 2011.