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Pasco property appraiser rejects commission's exercise in transparency

DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners called it an easy exercise in transparency: Put a line on the tax notices showing how much of the county rate finances the Pasco Sheriff's Office.

Nothing against Sheriff Bob White, said commissioners: They just wanted to show taxpayers on their truth-in-millage (TRIM) notice what a big chunk of the budget his expenses take up — nearly 40 percent of the property taxes collected for the county's general fund.

"It really isn't to poke at the sheriff," Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said Tuesday.

But Property Appraiser Mike Wells, whose office puts out the TRIM notices, wasn't buying it.

Wells, a former commissioner, said this was just another swipe in the decades-old annual battle between commissioners and the sheriffs over money. And he didn't want to participate.

"It's clear to me what you're doing," Wells told commissioners Tuesday. "I object for political reasons. I think it's kind of a dumb thing to do."

Up until last month, county commissioners were poised to set up a municipal services taxing unit to finance the sheriff's law enforcement duties. They said then that their goal was transparency: to show the public how much of their property tax goes to White's office.

But they scrapped the idea after realizing that property owners in unincorporated Pasco would end up with slightly higher tax bills. That's when they decided instead to pursue a separate line item on TRIM notices.

Commissioner Michael Cox suggested Tuesday they include all the constitutional officers on the TRIM notice as a way to answer the criticism that they were singling out the sheriff. Other counties do it, he said.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said he didn't see what the big deal was. "All we're attempting to do is provide that transparency," he said.

Wells apparently tired of hearing that word, "transparency."

"This must be the new word in politics," he said, pointing out he hears it all over the TV news.

He suggested the board could accomplish its goal by paying to insert fliers — complete with pie charts showing spending — into the notices.

"If you want to be transparent — whatever that word means — you have a golden opportunity to do it," he said.

County officials said printing such notices would cost them around $5,000 — a cost they said they weren't willing to spend.

Fine, Wells said. But don't expect him to add the information to the notices, especially on such short notice.

"I've disagreed with you and Mr. (John) Gallagher before, and I likely will again," he told commissioners. "I guess you won't be transparent this year."

He turned and walked out of the room.

Minutes later, commissioners turned to next year's proposed budget, which finance director Mike Nurrenbrock explained lays out expenditures more precisely than in years past.

"A little more transparent, is it?" deadpanned Schrader.

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

Pasco property appraiser rejects commission's exercise in transparency 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 9:04pm]
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