County budget requests presented


The population of St. Johns County, which was 273,425 in 2020 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, has not remained static. County officials have estimated that it rose to 296,919 in 2022 and 315,317 last year.

And that increase comes at a cost for county services.

Three of the county’s constitutional officers presented their tentative budgets for fiscal year 2025 during the regular County Commission meeting on Tuesday, June 4.

Sheriff Robert Hardwick began his presentation with a summary of his department’s work in fiscal year 2023, noting that it must operate across 601 square miles of land and 221 square miles of water. He noted that his office has increased enforcement of DUI and aggressive driving laws and that the number of traffic crashes has decreased about 15% to 5,300.

Illegal drugs continue to be a concern as the Sheriff’s Office seized 3,777 grams of fentanyl, 2,285 grams of methamphetamine, 2,373 grams of cocaine and 94 grams of heroin last year.

The department took 414,795 calls for service, including 115,428 9-1-1 calls. Those figures marked a small increase.

The average daily inmate population at the county jail was 483, and there were 6,375 bookings. In addition to county inmates, the jail is the holding facility for the cities of St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach, the Florida Highway Patrol and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Hardwick reported that job creation and retention remains good, in part due to the county allowing for pay increases.

“I know it comes at an expense, of course, to our citizens in St. Johns County, but I think it provides a better service if we are at full staff,” Hardwick said.

When he took office in 2021, the starting pay for a deputy sheriff was $42,000. That has been increased to $55,000. The starting pay for 9-1-1 operators was $39,000, which has been increased to $50,000. Other Sheriff’s Office employees started at $31,000. Now, the lowest salary is $40,500.

The department has 992 employees, including 735 in law enforcement and 236 in corrections.

The total budget proposal for next year is $128,706,884, the largest portion — $98,011,420 — going to personnel services. This is a $10.5 million increase and includes the addition of 21 new positions.

Hardwick noted that the St. Johns County School District funds about 69.1% of the cost for the 59 deputy sheriffs who work in the public schools. This year, three new positions will open to serve the two new K-8 schools planned for the north-central part of the county.

Hardwick said the School Board has, so far, indicated support for funding at $5.7 million, which is about a $500,000 increase over last year.

Dwala Anderson, chief financial officer for the St. Johns County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller, delivered the budget presentation for that department in place of Clerk Brandon Patty, who has been deployed with the U.S. Navy.

That budget is $4,477,646 for fiscal year 2025, a $675,761 increase over last year.

St. Johns County Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer presented his department’s budget of $8.6 million. The office being fee-based, he was not required to make the presentation but has done so since first taking office.

The St. Johns County Property Appraiser assessed 175,133 parcels last year, 126,189 of which were residential. It saw 9,000 new Homestead Exemption applications.

Creamer reported that the just market value for the county was $82.9 billion, and the taxable value stood at $51.9 billion.