The Hernando County Sheriff's Office warns that his agency is "significantly underfunded" and dwindling resources are putting public safety at risk. Sheriff Nienhuis says his plan to add a new detective to track the growing number of sex offenders moving to the county is being stonewalled by county leaders.
"We're stretching that rubber band very thin and I'm afraid it's going to break," Sheriff Al Nienhuis told ABC Action News Thursday.
People living in a west Brooksville neighborhood have become increasingly concerned about the number of sex offenders living nearby.
"Another one I know that lives about two blocks down, there's some two, three streets down - four or five up that street," said Allison Phillips.
According to HCSO, the number of sex offenders calling Hernando County home has nearly doubled in recent years, now totaling 416.
Detective Tommy Breedlove oversees the county registry, but is hampered by active cases. Det. Breedlove says he's backlogged from making random registry checks.
"By prioritizing you have to take your active cases first," said Det. Breedlove. "We're always afraid of the one that might fall through the cracks."
Sheriff Nienhuis asked Hernando County Commissioners for a 4% budget increase, totaling $1.7 million. Sheriff Nienhuis wants to use some of that money to hire a new detective focusing specifically on the county's sex offender registry.
"It's a very heavy burden because you take the safety of 175,000 people personally," said Sheriff Nienhuis.
County commissioners denied that request, instead proposing a new tax for unincorporated property owners. It would establish a Municipal Service Taxing Unit for law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of Hernando County.
"I asked for this item to be placed on the agenda for Board discussion so we can resolve the budget appeal with the Sheriff once and for all," said Chairman Wayne Dukes. "I believe the best way to do this while providing full transparency to our taxpayers is to establish a MSTU. In addition to the milage rate needed to maintain the Sheriff's approved budget, I'm prepared to transfer an additional $1.2 million to his current budget to settle the budget appeal and fully fund the Sheriff."
The Sheriff and county commissioners will discuss future funding at a meeting at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Government Center, located at 20 N. Main St., Brooksville.
However the budget battle ends, Tammy Salazar supports whatever gets her an extra set of eyes on area sex offenders.
"We need it," said Tammy Salazar. "Honest to God, we need it."