The City of Newberry approved the use of the Alachua County Sheriff's Office services for five more years at a lower rate under Sheriff Clovis Watson's direction.
The cost of the current contract between Newberry and the ASO has steadily increased. According to a three-year contract signed in 2018 for three years of service, the rate was $777,000 in 2018, $806,138 in 2019 and $836,368 in 2020. Those annual increases ranged from 3.75 percent to 5 percent.
But the current contract—reviewed by Mainstreet Daily News—which expires on Sept. 30, 2021, currently costs the city $1,007,513 (plus health insurance and retirement cost increases). That's an increase of more than 20 percent.
Newberry City Manager Mike New presented the idea of a negotiated contract amount at last night's regular commission meeting.
New said he has met a couple of times with Sheriff Watson and Watson has researched documents on the ASO side and both agreed that the 20 percent increase in 2021 came without justification.
New reported to the commission that Watson was willing to apply a 3.75 percent increase for the current 2021 amount and make it retroactive.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe said Sheriff Watson is "clearly delivering on his campaign promise of better relations." He reminded the commission and meeting viewers that Newberry could launch its own police department in 18 months for $1.5 million—and has publicly considered doing so.
But for as long as the ASO can serve Newberry for less than that, Marlowe said, Newberry should keep the services going forward.
"I would like to see a five-year contract to lock in some stability," Marlowe said.
New agreed: "The staff feels this is a good opportunity to save our citizens more money."
New explained to the commission some of the budget challenges that the ASO factors into contract rates.
"The sheriff pointed out some of the challenges," he said. "Just like the fire department, the labor component is the most volatile. With law enforcement, the labor component is in the 75-80 percent range."
New said he had to rethink how the ASO rate covers labor cost increases, retirement cost increases, and health insurance rate increases, and that is why Watson can't lower the annual increase for the five-year contract from the 3.75 annual increase.
The commission approved moving forward with a five-year contract and a 3.75 percent annual increase, noting that as the amount nears the cost of Newberry running its own police department, they would revisit that idea.
"After five years we would be back where we started," New said in reference to the projected cost by the end of the contract.