NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners got the green light from their attorney Tuesday to lobby the top state officials who will rule on Sheriff Bob White's appeal for an extra $4 million for new deputies and other expenses.
With the first hearing less than two weeks away, commissioners said they would try immediately to set up appointments with the offices of Gov. Rick Scott and Florida Cabinet members.
"They need to understand the issues in Pasco County," Commissioner Ted Schrader said Tuesday after a workshop.
County officials also revealed Tuesday that they have agreed to pay a Washington, D.C.-based consultant up to $25,000 to assist with the appeal.
The International City/County Management Association will look into the issues raised in White's budget request and may even send its experts to testify at the hearings at the Capitol, County Administrator John Gallagher said after the meeting.
That expenditure never came up publicly in any County Commission meetings. Gallagher has the authority to approve expenditures below $25,000 without the board's approval.
ICMA is already being paid $323,240 to help revamp the county's budget, streamline operations and study the fire rescue department.
White blasted the hiring of ICMA to assist with the appeal.
"I find it questionable that the county can again find money to spend on luxuries other than the most basic public need, law enforcement," he said in a written statement.
"This is an attempt by the county to fund a biased mouthpiece that will inevitably provide a slanted view to their position," the sheriff added. "We welcome an unbiased review of the facts, which is what the entire appeal process is based upon."
Neither White nor his lawyers have lobbied the governor or Cabinet about the appeal, according to sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll.
White's lawyers are Jeremiah Hawkes, a former general counsel for the Florida House of Representatives under Marco Rubio, and Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity, who has locked the pledges to become House speaker in 2016.
White campaigned for Scott and was also tapped to serve on his transition team.
Commissioners voted in September to keep White's 2010-11 budget flat at $85.5 million. White wants another $4 million, most of which would pay for 28 new deputies, who would be assigned to Holiday and Embassy Hills.
In October, White made a rare move, appealing his budget to the governor and Cabinet.
State officials asked both sides to compare themselves with five other counties: Brevard, Sarasota, Escambia, Polk and Manatee. White's response shows Pasco lags behind all five counties when it comes to such measures as the number of law enforcement deputies per 1,000 citizens and the amount of law enforcement spending per citizen. Pasco deputies also handle more arrests than those in the other counties.
County officials note that Pasco trails the other counties in average annual wages and leads in unemployment. Officials also say that declining revenue has spelled across-the-board cuts and that White could have assigned more of the deputies he already has to the target areas of Holiday and Embassy Hills.
A series of hearings in Tallahassee are scheduled.
The Feb. 14 meeting at the Capitol is with Cabinet aides, who will take input from the county and the sheriff. At a March 2 meeting, those staffers are expected to make a recommendation.
The governor and Cabinet meet March 9 and are scheduled to hand down their decision at that time.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.