SPRING HILL — Pasco Sheriff Bob White fired off lots of statistics Tuesday, hoping commissioners would relent at last to his request for an extra $4 million.
Crimes and arrests per officer, deputies per resident, the crime rate in Embassy Hills and Holiday: The numbers in Pasco, he said, all add up to a need for more deputies, now.
"You're not doing this for me, you're not even doing it to me. You're doing it to the citizens," White told commissioners. "Honestly, citizens don't expect to have to choose with public safety. They expect it."
But commissioners, who will sign off on the county budget early next month, stuck to their original number: zero — as in a zero percent increase in funding for White's office.
"We are stretched as far as we can stretch," said Commissioner Jack Mariano. "I don't know how we can go to all our other facilities, our other departments, and tell them to keep cutting while you get an increase."
After the meeting, White said a number of options remained, including a possible appeal of the county's decision to the Florida governor and Cabinet. Another item he said he hoped the commission weighed: Helping him out with $1.6 million in retirement and health insurance increases that are beyond his control.
"That's all on the table," he said. "They get to choose."
Commissioner Michael Cox said in an interview he wasn't sure he could support giving White any additional money and wants the county and sheriff to continue looking for ways to save money through consolidation.
"We're absorbing those (pension and insurance) costs in our budget," Cox said, referring to similar hikes that the county will see. "I'm looking down the road 12 months, and down the road isn't any easier."
White requested an $89 million budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That's an increase of roughly $4 million, or nearly 5 percent, compared to this fiscal year.
Commissioners have adopted a preliminary tax rate that is an extra 23 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value.
That increase created a $4.4 million reserve that could be used to restore cuts in other county programs, roll over to next year or reduce the final tax rate.
White is requesting 36 new positions: 28 deputies (to be divided between Embassy Hills and Holiday), four communications officers, a criminal analyst, a sergeant for the school resource program, an advanced registered nurse practitioner and a bailiff.
The sheriff provided commissioners with figures that compared Pasco to nine comparable counties. If Pasco wants to meet average benchmarks of those counties — on the number of officers per capita, for instance — it would need to add as many as 172 deputies today.
County officials fired off a few statistics of their own.
One was the number of non-deputy positions that White has requested over the years.
Between fiscal years 2004 and 2008, White requested a total of 338 new positions — only 69 of which were patrol deputies, according to a memo written by county budget director Mike Nurrenbrock.
Over that period, commissioners granted White enough money for 187 total positions.
Commissioners also noted the high percentage of White's budget requests that he has received since 2002 — around 91 percent to 100 percent.
White said that view didn't take into consideration the fact that the budgets he'd been presenting were less than what he truly needed.
He said he and his staff typically met with county administrators and sometimes even commissioners before releasing the budget to see what would fly.
Mariano said commissioners could only go by the budgets presented to them each year. White said future budgets would be like this one, reflecting exactly what he thinks he needs.
"You're going to get my requests from now on, just as you do today," he said.
'Arbitrary' flat budget
White also reiterated his request Tuesday that the county sell or lease out the now-empty jail in New Port Richey. He wants the money freed up for new hires, but commissioners said that a one-time influx of capital revenue couldn't pay for recurring operating expenses.
As a compromise, though, the commissioners agreed Tuesday to look into renovation costs and potential uses for the jail — months after White first floated the idea.
Nurrenbrock told commissioners that he had conducted a survey of other counties asking about the budgets of their sheriff's offices.
The survey showed that half of the 26 counties that responded reported reductions in their sheriff's budgets. Six proposed no increase. Seven indicated an increase.
In a June 22 letter to Chairwoman Pat Mulieri, White said the flat budget was "arbitrary" and "would not only fail to provide adequately for the Sheriff's Office for next year, it could result in layoffs to front line Sheriff's Office personnel, which I am not allowed to do under the (federal) COPS grant."
White said Tuesday after the meeting that he would not lay off any workers.
In the letter to Mulieri, White wrote: "I remain committed to work with you throughout this difficult budget cycle, but at this point in time I think the County Administrator has suggested an unhelpful and overly confrontation course of action that is an impediment to the open dialogue we need to have to see this process to a successful conclusion."
On Aug. 5, County Administrator John Gallagher sent another letter to White. He noted that White's total salary increase proposed is $2.1 million. Subtract the cost of the 36 proposed positions ($1.4 million) and $678,266 remains.
"Is any of the increase attributable to any raises, bonuses or modifications to salaries?" Gallagher wrote.
Col. Al Nienhuis said in an interview that the nearly $680,000 increase is due to reclassifying certain positions and moving people into higher paying positions.
He said there were no salary increases or bonuses.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.