MANATEE -- Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube wants to move the county off the Top 10 list of the 67 Florida counties with the highest crime rates.
To get and keep Manatee off that list -- the county ranked No. 4 in 2007 and ninth in 2011, according to Steube -- he says he needs deputies investigating suspicious situations and not just reacting to calls.
That takes manpower, he says.
Steube will ask for $101.1 million for the fiscal year 2013-14 budget, up from $97 million, which would include 20 more certified law officers and an increase in starting pay from $39,689 to $40,489 per year, he said.
Will the dollar-strapped Manatee County Commission give Steube's request a top priority?
"I don't predict any of those things," Steube said Monday. "It's my responsibility to present to the county commission what is necessary to run my agency, and that is what I have done every year."
Steube's request promises to be a major story line as the budget process begins Wednesday, when the sheriff, supervisor of elections and the clerk of courts submit written budget proposals to the county administration office.
Other constitutional officers have until later in the process, which culminates with a recommended county budget to the Board of Commissioners on May 30.
County spokesman Nick Azzara issued the follow response to Steube's request for a budget increase:
"The commission has consistently made public safety and law enforcement the top priority in the county's budget."
Steube says he is frustrated his department has become reactive rather than proactive.
"Right now, we respond to 850 calls for service a day," Steube said Monday. "I have deputies going call to call. We should be driving through neighborhoods during the days and looking for suspicious activity. And that is why, in the first three months of 2013, crime is up 4 percent. It's vehicle and residential burglaries."
Steube said he often gets calls from businesses considering relocating to Manatee.
"They call the sheriff's office and the first thing they want to know is, 'How do you rank in crime in the state?'" Steube said. "We have to report that we were ninth highest in 2011. But we did drop 16 percent in 2012, which I hope will knock us out of the Top 10.
"But I can't predict what the future will hold if we don't get the help we need," he added.
Many of Steube's deputies showed up in Manatee commission chambers last year to make an 11th-hour plea for $5.5 million to help with "compression" -- where the lack of pay raises over time creates people with experience having the same salary as newcomers -- and to help with entry level pay increases.
The commission gave Steube $3.2 million to raise his budget to $97 million.
"I was able to take care of the majority of the compression," Steube said. "I need that extra $3 million to bring the pay level up."
The sheriff's office's starting pay of $39,689 is the lowest among the 14 state agencies Steube says he uses as a measuring stick.
"If a new deputy can drive over the bridge to Tampa, he or she can work for the Tampa Police Department and make $10,000 more since they start at $49,863," Steube said. "He or she can go to the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and start at $45,900. The Sarasota Sheriff's Office starts at $43,000. The Bradenton Police Department is even more than us, at $41,900, and Pinellas County Sheriff's Office stands at $44,000. The truth is, if you are a deputy here, you can go north or south and make more money. I want to get in the middle of the pack or at least off the bottom."
The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has 428 certified law enforcement officers and 218 certified corrections officers.
If the request goes through, Steube is expected to put 12 new deputies out on the road and eight at the jail.
Steube said that number of Manatee lawmen and women would still be conservative.
Quoting FBI statistics, Steube said Manatee should have 3.1 deputies per 1,000 population. Manatee's population is currently more than 320,000.
"We are currently at 1.87 deputies per 1,000," Steube said. "If you do the math, we are over 300 law enforcement deputies behind."
Steube said he cannot hope to make up that kind of difference.
But 20 more would be the first step.
"We have got to get on a plan," Steube said. "If we don't get 20 or 30 new personnel a year we will never catch up."
Last year, Steube was not able to add any new officers, and the year before he added 10 positions, he said.
Richard Dymond, Herald law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 6686