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Residents Shocked at Sheriff's 2025 Budget Proposal, Demand New Leadership

HERNANDO – Residents in Hernando County have had enough with "liberal" politicians approving outrageous tax increases and massive budgets, and they demand a refund on votes they cast in the last two elections. But wait, Hernando County is a "Red County" where all five Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Sheriff are registered Republicans, so why are their policies not aligning with fiscal conservative values or the taxpayers who elected them?

While most residents are forced to work multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet, Sheriff Al Nienhuis didn't blink an eye when submitting his 2025 Budget Proposal that includes an unprecedented 12.5% increase.

Compounding the already strained tax burden, Nienhuis and the BOCC spent most of 2024 hammering out the details on a $300 million Master Plan to build a new training facility, detention center, parking garage, and multiple office buildings – and that doesn't include the land to build it on.

In recent years, Nienhuis spent millions on advanced technology that prevents you from knowing what's going on with the agency, while installing spy cameras around the county to keep tabs on your travels and who you associate with. The Flock camera system was supposed to be a secret surveillance system that Nienhuis refused to discuss with the community. He even went so far as to send an email to the BOCC, ordering them not to disclose details of the system to anyone or even mention his email. R News was tipped off to the Soviet-era operation and was able to confirm that the email existed. To this day, Nienhuis refuses to discuss what he is using the spy cameras for.

Before the Flock cameras were installed, Nienhuis spent nearly $13 million to encrypt radio traffic, so that the public can no longer listen to public safety radio, which includes Sheriff's Office and Fire Rescue responses.

To top it all off, Nienhuis refuses to consider implementing body-worn cameras (BWCs) with his deputies, stating the agency just can't afford them. Currently, there is a federal government grant available to purchase BWCs, but Nienhuis refuses to apply for the grant and will not answer our questions as to why. Whenever residents comment on the agency's Facebook page, demanding that he adopt a BWC plan, he swiftly bans them, warns them they have violated social media policy, or deletes the comment. Essentially, transparency has been completely removed from Nienhuis' agency.

The BOCC is responsible for reviewing the Sheriff's budget, which is 65% of the entire county's general fund, but that doesn't seem to happen with the current board members. Every year Nienhuis submits his proposal and every year they approve it without question – all except Commissioner Steve Champion – he has no qualms about asking tough questions before a vote takes place. Residents say, Nienhuis knows he can ask for practically anything he wants, and the four of the five commissioners will grant it. They also complain that there is zero oversight from constituents because meetings are held during business hours when most taxpayers are trying to make a living and can't attend.

It should be noted that no local or Tampa Bay media outlets other than R News have published articles on the Sheriff's Master Plan or the exorbitant annual budget proposal. There is speculation that candidates would not welcome such exposure because it's an election year.

R News asked our readers what they thought of the big spending and taxing habits of Nienhuis and the BOCC. Here is a sampling of their responses:

Maureen Molloy

"I think it's ridiculous whether you're conservative or a liberal, to be honest. I think it should be run through the people. I definitely want his deputies to be safe and have what they need to do their jobs of course. People are struggling. I don't think now is the time for the complex maybe in the future."

Elizabeth Barnett

"He is running the county into the ground, much like President Biden is running the country into the ground. Not a political statement---- facts are facts. He needs to be replaced just like all his rubber stampers."

Gary Pane

"I'd say that the BOCC is rubber stamping way too many housing projects for this county and population density is skyrocketing to the point of infrastructure suicide. The BOCC shouldn't support this hyper-spending program for HCSO when they themselves should reign in excessive spending and the issuing of endless building permits. Body cameras are a necessity as well as slowing down uncontrolled growth or, eventually, we will all move to some other place."

Roger Edwards

"Whatever happened to the saying No New Taxes? Apparently, they've just thrown that out the window. Every week there's a new one for something it's getting old."

Lora Mccullers

"No way. I think the body-worn cams are way more important than the new building. We are already struggling. Does the BOCC and the sheriff want to take a pay cut and they can pay for the new building? I bet not. They make more money than most of us."

Dennis McCarthy

"He's not even close to fiscally responsible and he believes he answers to no one. As long as an apathetic, uninformed electorate keeps punching the button to simply vote for the incumbent we're stuck with this incompetent."

Additional comments can be viewed on our Facebook community group R News Plus.

In the introduction letter to the budget proposal, Nienhuis says the agency could have requested much more from taxpayers, stating, "Documentation supporting the original requested needs of the agency resulted in an increase to our budget of 29%. However, we had to make some difficult decisions resulting in a $13 million reduction of the initial proposed budget." The total 2025 proposed budget is at 87.6 million dollars as it stands.

Nienhuis tells the community, "I welcome and strongly encourage your questions and constructive discussion." He extends an offer for anyone to contact his assistant to schedule a one-on-one meeting to discuss his budget proposal.

To pay for the Sheriff's "Master Plan" and other county infrastructure projects, the BOCC has decided to place a 1% sales tax referendum on the ballot for this November's election. If that doesn't pass, the matter will come back to the BOCC, where they will decide on how you will pay for it in other ways.

It is unknown if Nienhuis will appear in person to discuss the budget with the BOCC prior to a vote.

 

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