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Pasco County sheriff insists he needs budget increase

DADE CITY — Here's a math quiz Col. Al Nienhuis gives trainees at the Pasco Sheriff's Office.

Say you are a newly elected council member of the city of Ocsap. The chief of police, who currently has a $49 million budget, needs an extra $1 million next year, bringing his total request to $50 million.

"The Ocsap City Council has a history, according to city staff, of giving the chief '98 percent of what he requests,' " the question says. So if you want to stick to that precedent, how much does the police chief get?

A. $49 million

B. $49,980,000

C. $50 million

D. None of the above

Back in Pasco County, how that question gets answered is more evidence of the deep divide between the Sheriff's Office and the county over the budget.

"Using county staff's math you would come up with option A," said sheriff's spokesman Kevin Doll. "The way they have presented the information, however, creates the illusion that option B had been past practice."

He said he thinks most of the public assumes that the sheriff is getting the same as the year before — plus a very high percentage of a requested increase. "They are being very misleading," he said of the county.

County budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said he'd indeed pick option A, 98 percent of the total request.

But he said he's never implied otherwise — and figures most people would agree.

"No one under the Board of County Commissioners (libraries and parks, for instance) assumes they're going to get their base" from the prior year, he said. "If they got the same as they got last year, they'd be ecstatic."

This close to the budget finish line and yet so far away.

Sheriff Bob White and his office are stepping up their case for more funding as commissioners prepare Tuesday to take the first of two votes on the county's $1 billion spending plan for 2010-11.

The hearing begins at 6:30 p.m. at the historic courthouse in Dade City. On Thursday, county administrators will notify those workers whose jobs are being eliminated in next year's budget.

White has not ruled out appealing to the governor and Cabinet if commissioners follow through with keeping his budget flat at $85 million.

"I'm going to wait and see what the county does and then I'm going to have to make a very difficult decision," he said.

White says it's critical he gets an extra $4 million to hire 28 new deputies in west Pasco, and he has circulated statistics showing, by such measures as population and arrests per deputy, his office is underfunded compared to other counties.

"We're doing a good job. There's just not enough of us," he said, noting that Pasco cities had more officers per capita than the county. "Why is it that the small venues can accomplish it, the big venues can accomplish it, and then there's an anomaly … ta-da."

Nurrenbrock, who has long tangled with sheriffs over funding, said White never mentions that many of his financial problems were alleviated due to the Penny for Pasco sales tax, which pays for patrol cars and laptops for the sheriff. Before the county began collecting that money, sheriffs had to pay for their fleet costs out of their general budget.

"That entire argument has been eliminated now for five years," he said.

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said she had spoken recently with White, who told her he thought there would be some support from her colleagues to increase his budget if she took a leadership role.

Hildebrand said she didn't know about that — "The board recognizes how tight that budget is and in all probability it'll be that tight next year," she said — but she floated the possibility of using an unexpected $800,000 rebate check that the county just learned it got from Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.

Commissioner Michael Cox said he wanted to apply that money to offset next year's financial woes.

"Every indication is that we're going to be as bad a situation next year as we are this," he said. "If that weren't the case, his argument would be more compelling."

White noted that by keeping his budget flat, commissioners are actually cutting it: He's got two big costs — health insurance and pension increases worth $1.6 million — that are out of his control.

He said he thinks that in the end, the numbers support his case.

Referring to Nurrenbrock, he said, "No amount of Mikey math can change it."

Fast facts

Recent purchases

• The Sheriff's Office paid nearly $30,000 for new hats this year ($60 apiece for 477 deputies), according to spokesman Kevin Doll. That money comes from the general fund allocation.

"They're more durable than the old ones," Doll said, adding that the old Stetson hats were given to the youth Explorers unit.

• Last month, the Sheriff's Office used $2,000 in federal forfeiture funds to buy a 1986 Hummer through the military surplus program. The vehicle was valued by the military at $40,000 in 2004 when it was purchased by the Lake County Sheriff's Office. This year, Lake County returned it to the military.

Doll said the vehicle was a necessary purchase for Pasco's SWAT team, which will use it for "high-risk" search warrants.

The Lake County Sheriff's Office bought the vehicle for $500 in 2004 and added some equipment, said Lake County Sgt. Jim Vachon.

On its June transfer form to the military, a Lake County official wrote that the vehicle, which has 22,739 miles, is in "poor condition, not needed in fleet."

Jodie Tillman,

Times Staff Writer

Pasco County sheriff insists he needs budget increase 09/04/10 [Last modified: Saturday, September 4, 2010 1:48pm]
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