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Pasco budget proposal calls for job shifts, no raises

DADE CITY — Pasco's county administrator is calling for roughly the same level of spending next year as the county reshuffles more than two dozen jobs and plans the high-profile step of closing the last two county-owned swimming pools.

County Administrator John Gallagher's proposed spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 includes slightly more than $1 billion in spending, nearly equal to the current year.

The plan would cut 31 jobs, including 14 workers who would be subject to layoffs.

But the county would add an equal number of positions in other departments. Laid off workers with the correct skills would be encouraged to apply for the new jobs and would receive priority in hiring.

Most of the job cuts would be from the parks and facilities departments that are funded with property taxes. New jobs would be created in the utilities and stormwater departments, which are paid for with assessments and fees.

For the fourth straight year, Pasco employees would not receive raises.

But the biggest budget flashpoint is the plan to end a $329,000 program: running the swimming pools at Veterans Memorial Park in Hudson and the Land O'Lakes Recreation Center. Entrance fees at those pools only bring in $39,000 a year.

County parks director Rick Buckman told commissioners Tuesday that he has a tentative agreement with the Land O'Lakes Lightning club team to operate that pool.

Although he declined to discuss more details before sharing the plan with Gallagher and commissioners, he said any agreement would likely involve some level of access for the public.

Buckman said he plans to meet with coaches from the schools that use the Veterans Memorial pool and with nearby hospitals to talk about doing more water exercise classes. But he said an agreement there might be harder to reach because there is no club team similar to the Lightning.

"It's vital that we have these pools open," Commissioner Jack Mariano said, adding that he would like any agreement with a private entity to keep the county's costs as low as possible.

Commissioner Ann Hilde­brand said she hopes to keep the pools open for a year so they can weather a down period for county property values.

"I'm cautiously optimistic they're starting to inch up," she said. "But they need to jump up."

Values dropped 2.5 percent this year, though Property Appraiser Mike Wells has said he believes values are beginning to bottom out.

The proposed budget is based on the assumption that commissioners won't increase the property tax rate for the county's general fund and for fire service. Raising those rates to collect the same amount in taxes as last year, to the so-called "rollback rate," would bring in an extra $3.3 million.

The county caught a pair of budgetary breaks this year that spared it from the more severe budget cuts of previous years.

First, the Legislature set lower pension rates, partially funded by a required 3 percent contribution by all workers in the state retirement system. That saved the county $5.6 million.

The county also will carry over $4.2 million in unspent money in various funds from the current budget year.

The proposed budget will be discussed at upcoming workshops before a final vote in September.

Pasco budget proposal calls for job shifts, no raises 07/12/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 12, 2011 9:00pm]
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