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Pasco commissioners at odds over cuts, taxes

DADE CITY — Pasco Commission Chairman Ted Schrader says time is running out for Commissioner Henry Wilson to cut next year's budget if he wants to soften a projected tax hike.

The two got into dustup last week as commissioners looked to trim the county budget but still fund a 3 percent wage increase for county employees. Schrader told Wilson that it was "disingenuous" to support a wage increase but not the means to fund it.

"He was the one who pushed for this," Schrader said later, adding that Wilson suggested the raises in January and since then, the state has demanded the county contribute $4 million toward employees' pensions.

Together with the pay raises, the commissioners were painted into a corner, he said.

After hours of deliberation last Tuesday, commissioners agreed to cut programs, including a request by the sheriff for $500,000, and to slow or prevent some new hires. They left in place the 3 percent pay hike for employees, many of whom haven't had a raise in years.

But while the strategy won backing from Schrader and other commissioners, Wilson wasn't ready to embrace it, even though he supported the raises.

"I haven't finished reading the entire budget book," Wilson said Monday. "I'm still working with the county attorney, but I don't have a number yet."

While Wilson looks for further cuts to stave off a 7.8 percent increase in the aggregate millage rate for next year, the clock is ticking, Schrader says.

The final vote on the $1.16 billion budget is set for Sept. 24, but county budget writers need direction from commissioners by next week on whether to enact more cuts.

After weeks of poring over the budget, the commission and county staff have yet to find millions in savings to lower the overall tax rate, short of drastic spending reductions, Schrader said.

Schrader earlier floated a plan to save almost $1 million by closing two libraries — Centennial Park and New River — but commissioners balked and voted unanimously to preserve both.

More spending cuts could be on the way. Among the cuts the commission did make were:

• Four additional code enforcement officers.

• Three months of funding for six new employees in the planning department.

• $250,000 toward a facilities master plan.

• $36,000 for the Public Information Office, including advertising, membership fees, printing, binding and reproductions, and promotions.

• $500,000 by the Sheriff's Office for food, laundry and other items for the jail's third floor.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6236.

Pasco commissioners at odds over cuts, taxes 08/19/13 [Last modified: Monday, August 19, 2013 8:26pm]
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