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Budget ax looms over Pasco Sheriff's Office budget

DADE CITY — Over the last three years, the county library system reduced its budget by 35 percent. Parks and Recreation, 30 percent. The Supervisor of Elections, 21 percent. And the Clerk of Courts, 14 percent.

Indeed, on the one-page list of nearly 50 agencies' budgets compiled by county officials, only one saw an increase over that period:

The Pasco Sheriff's Office, whose 2007 budget of $83.5 million had risen slightly to $85.5 million by 2010.

That detail — the only black type in a column of red — caught the attention of Pasco commissioners Tuesday as they discussed a new way of prioritizing next year's budget.

The stakes are high: Revised figures show a general fund deficit of about $12.5 million for next year, said budget director Mike Nurrenbrock.

None of the constitutional officers, including Sheriff Bob White, has participated in the new budgeting process, which assigns a score to programs based on how they achieve strategic goals. In the current year's budget, nearly 40 percent of the $146 million collected in property taxes went to the Sheriff's Office.

"It's extremely hard to budget on this platform we've laid out when the biggest chunk of that budget is not participating," said Commissioner Michael Cox.

Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested the county look into a special taxing unit for the Sheriff's Office to make more clear how much of the county's general fund goes toward law enforcement. That would mean paying for countywide functions, such as jail operations, out of the general fund; road patrol and other functions that are only done in unincorporated Pasco would come out of a special property tax fund.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said the board needed to send White a message that "we expect a reduction."

Back in March, White projected a 4 percent increase due to state-mandated increases in the retirement system. Spokesman Kevin Doll declined to update those projections Tuesday, noting the sheriff's budget would be released the first week of June.

But Doll said White didn't think he needed to participate in the new budgeting process. The county is paying $323,240 to ICMA Consulting Services to help revamp the budgeting process.

"The sheriff prioritizes his budget every year," Doll said. "He is a constitutional officer, and he is mandated by law to protect the citizens of the county when he puts forth that budget."

"He's glad the county is prioritizing its missions, but its missions aren't interrelated," said Doll, adding that commissioners can choose, for instance, between recreation programs and libraries. "However the Pasco sheriff has one basic mission."

Not a lot of definitive direction came out of Tuesday's workshop. Commissioners talked about dropping their Florida Association of Counties membership to save about $42,000 a year. A $5 million reserve fund was held up among the potential sources of money to balance the budget. A planned $2 million for economic development is another target.

Nurrenbrock also asked commissioners to consider pushing the tax rate for the firefighting district up, from $1.11 to $1.38 per $1,000 of assessed property value. That would give fire/rescue the same amount of money it had this year, plus provide a cushion to absorb higher retirement and health insurance costs.

The department is down more than 40 positions, a gap that officials have tried to cover by spending money on overtime to keep trucks manned with at least three firefighters.

"That's a very expensive, bad way of doing its business in the long run," Chief Assistant County Administrator Michele Baker said of the overtime.

County staff are expected to come back to commissioners with an analysis of the difference between continuing the overtime pay vs. filling those positions.

Officials did not have in-depth discussions about any particular county programs that would get hit hardest. Nurrenbrock talked about preparing department officials for the worst-case scenarios: their top-ranked programs would be cut 5 percent, lowest-ranked ones 30 percent.

But County Administrator John Gallagher said he wanted to hold off on that discussion until commissioners gave a clearer sense of how much money, such as from the reserves account, they'd be willing to use toward the budget. Many of those imperiled programs have vocal constituency groups.

"I don't want to be out here riling up the community if we don't have to," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Budget ax looms over Pasco Sheriff's Office budget 05/04/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 4, 2010 10:16pm]
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