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Pasco commissioners seek further budget cuts

NEW PORT RICHEY — Get ready for the long, hot summer.

That's what County Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said Thursday when she and the other commissioners agreed to ask the county's five constitutional officers to cut their spending plans for next year by 4.5 percent.

Commissioners have to cut their budget to make up for a shortfall that could reach $5.6 million. Property values declined 5 percent last year, not welcome news but far better than the $14 million plunge the year before. So far this year, budget writers have been able to identify $4.9 million to be cut from the 2011-12 county budget.

"We're on our way to that target," county budget chief Mike Nurrenbrock said.

Constitutional officers' requests are due June 1. Commissioners typically spend the summer tweaking and haggling over a final overall budget that has to be approved before the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Last year, a request for constitutional officers to cut budgets by 5 percent set the stage for a standoff with then-Sheriff Bob White, who asked for a 4.6 percent increase and appealed to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet when commissioners said no. White, who called on commissioners to "man up," even went on Bubba the Love Sponge's radio show to make his case.

White and commissioners eventually worked out a compromise — an additional $945,000 for employee retirement and pension costs but no new deputies — before state officials had to step in.

"They don't call it the long, hot summer for nothing," Hildebrand said of the months of negotiations leading up to final budget approval.

This year, White has retired and the agency's budget is controlled by his replacement, Sheriff Chris Nocco — who offered no hint Thursday of what his response might be.

"As in years past, our budget will be released on June 1," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll said. "And we will reserve comment until that time."

Other constitutional officers pledged to be frugal but said it would be harder to make more cuts this year.

"We haven't finalized our budget, so I don't know if we could do that," said Paula O'Neil, clerk of the circuit court. She said the parts of her office that are funded by the state just took a $600,000 hit.

Elections Supervisor Brian Corley was more adamant, calling such a cut "absolutely impossible."

Over the past four years, he noted, his office's budget has been slashed by 28 percent. He has closed his Wesley Chapel office, used in-house staff to do tasks previously handled by vendors, cut staff and combined precincts.

This year, he said, "What's going to happen is a perfect storm."

During the next budget year, the elections office must handle a presidential primary (an extra election) on top of redistricting in the aftermath of the U.S. Census, plus get ready for the 2012 election.

"It's an event that only happens every 20 years," he said, noting the last time was 1992.

Also complicating matters is the fact that Pasco, which census figures show reported a sharp increase in the Hispanic population, might for the first time be required by law to produce bilingual versions of all its elections materials.

"I'm still waiting to see," Corley said.

On top of that, a bill signed this week by the governor cuts the number of early voting days but extends the hours. Also, greater restrictions on voters who try to make registration changes at the polls mean more matters that election officials will have to sort out. The changes would require more overtime pay for staffers.

"It's a unique budget year," he said.

Staff writer Erin Sullivan contributed to this report.

Pasco commissioners seek further budget cuts 05/19/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 19, 2011 8:36pm]
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