NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County workers found something missing from new uniforms issued in recent weeks:
American flag patches.
The county had provided the patches on uniform shirts since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But amid the budget cuts of recent years, with officials directed to find savings, purchasing director Scott Stromer figured the flag patches were one thing that could go.
The county had spent about $1.70 to buy and sew each flag patch on the uniforms issued to new employees and those issued as replacements for current employees. The patches added about $5,200 in the 2007-08 budget year, according to the Office of Management and Budget.
So around the 2009 fiscal year, the purchasing department stopped ordering new patches. The department's old stockpile of the flag patches ran out in recent weeks, which is why employees just began noticing their absence.
"It's got to come from somewhere," Stromer said of the savings. "And you try to do the thing that doesn't affect the public."
The uniforms in question are mainly the brown ones issued to utilities, facilities and road crew workers, though other departments, such as code enforcement and animal services, also have the flag patches on their uniforms. (Pasco Fire Rescue's uniforms are handled separately.)
Utility employees, who do some of the most rugged and dirtiest work, are issued between five and 10 sets of uniforms.
Stromer said even cuts worth several thousand dollars have an impact on department budgets like his, which runs around $400,000.
"I still stand by it," he said Wednesday morning after questions surfaced about the decision.
But less than a half hour later, Stromer called back. He'd just spoken with County Administrator John Gallagher.
Gallagher directed him to keep buying flag patches.
"He said, 'Let's just keep them going,' " Stromer said. "Obviously, we'll do it."
They may need to save room for another patch. The Teamsters union, which now represents county employees, recently proposed its first contract.
On its list: the right for workers to wear either a union lapel pin or a 3-inch union patch on county uniforms. The union says the county would not have to pay for it.
Even though workers get to keep their flag patches, their uniforms could lose a more critical component in the next few years. As he continues to hunt for savings in his department next year, Stromer will consider another proposal: Stop providing uniform pants.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.