NEW PORT RICHEY — Ever since Pasco commissioners first shot down his request for extra money, Sheriff Bob White has promised he'd appeal the decision if they did not reconsider.
Commissioners held their ground on keeping his $85.5 million budget flat. On Friday, White delivered on his promise.
White announced he had just sent his official appeal of the county's 2010-11 budget to the governor and Florida Cabinet. If his request continues past the staff and advisory board levels, the state's new governor and Cabinet would take up the case sometime next year.
"We're going all the way," White said at a news conference. "We expect to win."
White's case for an additional $4 million — most of which would go toward hiring 28 patrol deputies split between Holiday and Embassy Hills — is built around funding statistics of his office compared to those of sheriffs in 10 other counties.
The booklet of information he sent to Tallahassee — thicker than three year's worth of his past budgets — compares 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.
For instance, one page looks at law enforcement costs — which pay for road patrol and investigations, for instance — as a percentage of the overall county budget.
Pasco's $52 million law enforcement budget is 5 percent of the county's overall $1 billion spending plan. The law enforcement budget in 10 other counties averages 7.3 percent of overall spending.
(Not noted: Pasco commissioners pay for the sheriff out of the $217 million general fund, and many of the other costs in the overall $1 billion budget are beyond their control.)
Pasco trails nearly all the 10 other counties listed in other benchmarks as well, something that White said is a result of a more than decade-old history of commissioners past and present short-changing law enforcement.
"This is strictly a Pasco County government problem," he said.
He noted, in another case, that Pasco deputies average 38 arrests per year. That's compared to the other counties' average of 24 arrests a year per deputy.
Translation? "The (Pasco) deputies have a bigger workload, and the citizens have less protection," he said.
White said his office would handle the appeal with in-house counsel and didn't have a figure for how much would be budgeted toward the effort.
Any additional money that might come his way as a result of his appeal would likely come well into the middle of the fiscal year. White, who has been campaigning on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott, said he's confident he'll win.
But if he does not? He'd need to make nearly $1 million in cuts to cover rising health care and pension costs. White would not say Friday how he'd be able to cover that but said "I'm not laying anybody off."
White's persistent comparisons to other counties is no accident. That's the sort of information that the governor's staff considers as it puts together its analysis, said Carolyn Harty, chief budget analyst for the public safety unit of the governor's Office of Policy and Budget.
Harty said that her office will next identify five counties that are similar in population and demographics. The county and sheriff will then have to retrieve information from those five counties.
"We start our analysis to see how the sheriff is funded and treated compared to other counties," she said. She added that the staff also looks at how White's office is funded compared with other constitutional offices, something his appeal also addresses.
Once all that information comes back to state officials, then a panel of representatives from each cabinet member is convened. That panel will hear from lawyers for White and the commission, then issue a recommendation, which goes to the governor and cabinet for another hearing.
Officials could grant none, part or all of his request.
Most times, Harty noted, the disputes are resolved while the case is pending at the staff level. Since 1991-92, the governor and Cabinet issued decisions on only three appeals. (One was denied, and one was partially granted. Harty could not tell what happened on the third.)
This year, the Pasco Sheriff's Office and the Alachua Sheriff's Office are the only two making appeals.
His letter to the governor's office also says that the County Commission in September put $2 million in a hurricane fund despite no previous plan to do so, and that commissioners have budgeted $13 million toward a joint information technology building and elections service center even though Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley has said he does not need it.
"I imagine that the commission will tell you times are tough, and they don't have the funding," White wrote. "This is simply not the case."
County budget director Mike Nurrenbrock noted Friday that the county's strategic plan calls for building up the hurricane reserve fund, which now stands at about $10.8 million.
Nurrenbrock would not comment on White's data but said he believes state officials will be interested in other information as well: the $30 million reduction in property taxes in Pasco in recent years; the 13 percent unemployment rate; 14,000 open foreclosures; the fact that Pasco has qualified for millions of dollars in stimulus funding to stabilize neighborhoods.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said the county will also be able to show that the sheriff's budget has grown in relation to the hard-hit libraries and parks budgets. He also noted that the sheriff just last year received 24 deputies with federal stimulus funding, and that commissioners are setting aside money to pay for them when that grant runs out.
"Maybe he needs to take a look at deploying his resources a little bit differently than what he's done," said Mariano.
Commissioner Michael Cox said he's confident that state officials will find that the board made the right decision. In the meantime, he said, county and sheriff's officials should be meeting to come up with savings, such as through consolidation.
"My intention is to find long-term solutions for funding the Sheriff's Office, and the only way we'll ever be able to do that is for cooler heads to prevail," Cox said. "The problem with the Sheriff's Office is we're trying to make long-term decisions every 12 months."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.