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Pasco commissioners shun sheriff's plea for more money

DADE CITY — Pasco Sheriff Bob White appeared before commissioners Tuesday to "take them to school" over their decision not to give him the money for 28 new deputies.

But after the two sides spent 35 minutes trading statistics and taking umbrage, commissioners declared class over.

Commissioners took no action on White's request for them to cancel plans for a $13 million elections service center and data processing facility — which he called "a monument to bureaucracy" — and use part of that money to help fund his request.

"I don't feel comfortable making a knee-jerk decision," said Commissioner Michael Cox, who told the sheriff he'd been hurt by the "personal attacks" lobbed at the board and county staff in recent weeks.

White has been on the warpath. Last Thursday, he called a news conference to announce he'd be at Tuesday's commission meeting and said commissioners needed to "man up" and fund his request, and if they did not they should all resign and take County Administrator John Gallagher with them. He even hurled a modern-day political insult at them: "career politicians."

He cited, too, the recent murder of 94-year-old Ann Parlato of Regency Park as an example of what can happen without a strong law enforcement. Parlato knew the man accused of killing her, her lawn maintenance man, 47-year-old John Sexton.

On Monday, White appeared on Bubba the Love Sponge's radio show, and the sympathetic DJ later posted a sample e-mail, complaining of what White has dubbed the "computer palace," that listeners could send to commissioners.

Commissioners have already approved the budget for the current fiscal year. His budget was held flat at $85.5 million. He wanted more — nearly $4 million — most of which was to pay for 28 new deputies on the west side.

Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley told commissioners two weeks ago that he could make do at least through 2012 without a joint elections service center and the county's information technology facility.

White seized on that as an opportunity to fund his request. He says the county should instead renovate the now-vacant New Port Richey jail for those facilities — an initial review says it would cost around $5 million — and use the leftover dollars to pay for his deputies.

White told commissioners Tuesday that they should stop talking about a lack of money for his budget request. He said they didn't have to raise taxes, just find the money elsewhere.

"Really and truly, the question is and has always been, it's not a fiscal issue but always been a matter of priorities," he said.

White then went down the line, asking each commissioner to make a motion to cancel the elections/IT center and fund his request.

"Absolutely not," said Commissioner Ted Schrader, who was first in line. Commissioner Ann Hildebrand shook her head. Cox, who was next, asked for county staff to make a presentation.

County budget director Mike Nurrenbrock showed figures comparing the growth in the sheriff's budget to the growth in the general fund.

Since 2001, the sheriff's budget has increased 62 percent. Over that same period, property tax revenue in the overall general fund, which pays for the sheriff and other basic services, grew 46 percent. He also put up numbers that showed the millions of dollars in non-property tax money — Penny for Pasco dollars, community redevelopment funds — that the sheriff gets as well.

White's office counters that county staff play loose with the statistics: They note that the percentage of their budget funded each year is actually much lower if you count only the new request, not the base amount. They also say that Nurrenbrock has presented misleading figures about the percentage of new personnel requests that have been approved each year.

After Nurrenbrock's presentation, Cox spoke. "Bob, I like you. I consider you a friend," he said. "But I have to tell you over the last couple of weeks it's been pretty difficult dealing with the personal attacks."

Cox then cited the percentage of White's budget — on average around 96 percent — that has been funded each year. He raised questions about the sheriff's staff devoted to raising hogs and cows at the county jail farm, about new uniforms purchased for deputies, about a new boat he's seen. (White said the agricultural operations are funded by grants.)

Cox also noted that other constitutional officers decreased their budgets.

"The citizens are hurting badly," said Cox. "The fact is, I do stand by my decision."

White countered: "There's not another constitutional officer … that has dead bodies."

"You're not giving this to me, Michael," the sheriff said. "You're giving it to your citizens."

Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said she'd been offended, too, by some of White's comments about them in the media.

"To say we're out of touch really isn't fair," she said. "Or to say we're lifetime politicians?"

Commissioners said they were moving on. "Thank you for your time," said White, who stacked his papers, which included drawings of the IT/elections center, and walked out.

Asked outside whether he plans to file an appeal, the sheriff said he still hasn't made up his mind. He said he's giving commissioners time to change theirs.

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

By the numbers

$13M Cost of elections and data processing center the sheriff wants to postpone, arguing the money would be better spent on new deputies

$85.5M

Size of the sheriff's budget, same as last year

96 Percent of the sheriff's total budget request that gets funded each year, on average

Pasco commissioners shun sheriff's plea for more money 10/05/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 5, 2010 9:31pm]
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