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Pasco County responds to sheriff's funding appeal

DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners fired back Wednesday against Sheriff Bob White, telling state officials that his office has been adequately funded and that his appeal for more money is based in part on some misleading figures.

"The deliberation of the many months leading up to the final budget hearing ... were exhaustive and painful," says the county response, sent to the Governor's Office Wednesday. "(T)his is not about a ten year battle for funding. This is a case of the Sheriff wanting more with no more to give."

White last week sent his official appeal of his $85.5 million budget to the governor and Florida Cabinet. County officials had five days to respond.

If White's request continues past the staff and advisory board levels, the state's new governor and Cabinet would take up the case sometime next year. State officials could grant none, part or all of White's request for $4 million in additional funding, most of which would go toward hiring 28 new deputies in west Pasco.

The response, prepared by county budget officials, noted that Pasco has a history of rolling back tax rates to offset swelling property values. Officials wrote that White himself "is on record as supporting Amendment 1 and reduced property taxes" but added that he never negotiated a reduction in his budget.

"Pasco County strongly believes that the (2010-2011) budget is constrained to keep property taxes low, is prioritized to meet the needs and desires of the county's citizens and provides a fair and equitable allocation to the Pasco County Sheriff," the letter says.

County officials rejected, too, White's comparisons of his budget to the entire county budget, saying that most revenues must go toward specific items — federal stimulus money that has to go toward housing; utility fees that can only be spent on that department — and could not be spent on law enforcement.

"He wants to be allocated more money to his office as other portions of the county budget grow from revenues that cannot be used to fund his budget," the county's letter says.

The response also goes over the sheriff's history on new positions for road patrol. Last year, he got 24 deputies through a federal grant. The year before that, he asked for no new patrol positions. In fiscal year 2008, only about a quarter of the 109 requested positions were for road patrol, the letter says.

"If there is in fact a lack of patrol positions it appears to be at least in part based on the requests of the Sheriff's Office," the county says.

County officials also raised some challenges to White's central thesis: That statistics show his office is underfunded compared with those of sheriffs in 10 other counties.

White looked at such factors as the sheriff's funding as a percentage of the overall county budget, the average number of arrests per officer and costs per citizen.

Budget director Mike Nurrenbrock told commissioners Wednesday that White picked counties that were generally wealthier than Pasco in terms of per capital income and taxable values. He said that Pasco trailed all the 10 counties in income and placed 9th in taxable values.

"Our premise is that if you have a more affluent county ... you may be able to fund your county government at a higher level," he said.

Nurrenbrock added that some of the statistics don't necessarily add up. For instance, he said, there is no correlation between having a higher number of deputies per 1,000 people and a lower crime rate.

Commissioners are headed toward discussing their strategy in a rare, closed-door session Tuesday after an already scheduled workshop.

Commissioner Michael Cox, who lost his re-election bid Tuesday, asked that the private session be held next week, while he's still in office, so that he can attend.

"Because I've got some pointed actions that the board should consider doing," he said.

Cox questioned White's statement in his appeal, for instance, that he saved money by getting rid of two staff attorneys and replacing them with one, Jeremiah Hawkes.

Cox said the appeal failed to point out that White has also contracted legal services with state representative-elect Richard Corcoran. (The contract with Corcoran is worth $90,000.)

Cox said he thought the county needed to call the sheriff on such matters as the savings in his legal department. "You shifted a whole bunch of dollars to help a political friend," he said.

Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said she didn't like the tone that the discussion was taking.

"I feel like we're a newspaper in an election, sitting up here and playing 'Gotcha!' with the sheriff," she said.

Too bad, said her colleagues.

"We didn't ask for this," said Commissioner Ted Schrader. "It was forced upon us."

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

Pasco County responds to sheriff's funding appeal 11/03/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 3, 2010 8:36pm]
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