DADE CITY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco found a mostly receptive County Commission on Tuesday when he presented his plans to boost spending by 6 percent next year.
Much of the $5.9 million increase Nocco is seeking in his overall proposed spending plan of $96 million would go toward pay raises, he said.
Scores of deputies have resigned or retired in recent months, many joining departments in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, Nocco said. Boosting salaries by $2.6 million could stem the exodus, he said.
He intends to give his employees a 1 percent raise for each year of service with all raises capped at 5 percent. He also requested $333,460 for overtime pay.
"These are stellar people," Nocco told commissioners at a budget workshop. "It's heartbreaking when you are constantly getting people who are leaving."
The agency had capped wages for five years, though it did allow a 3 percent increase last year. It also tightened overtime pay, offering deputies "flex time" for extra hours on the job.
Nocco said many in the 1,500-member sheriff's office are awaiting results of the budget negotiations before deciding whether to stay in Pasco. Reports show 27 staffers, most of them deputies, resigned or retired in May and the first two weeks of June, many citing better financial opportunities as among reasons for leaving.
Deputy Eric Blomgren, a SWAT sniper, said more pay was the main reason he left.
"I am solely leaving due to pay," he wrote in a May 16 resignation letter. "I will certainly miss working here, but I feel this step is necessary to provide my family with the best possible quality of life."
Another deputy, Eric Anfuso, wrote: I find it unfortunate that the only way to keep up with the times is to abandon the career I love just so I can pay the bills." Anfuso said he was taking a job overseas with a private security company.
County commissioners pledged to support the department.
"We have no hidden money. We don't have extra money. We are all scraping by . . . and we have to invest in ourselves a little bit more," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said, eliciting applause from the 80 or so deputies present at Nocco's budget presentation.
Nocco's talk came after other department heads also requested spending increases, arguing they've operated on shoe-string budgets since the recession.
Zoning Administrator Carol Clarke said her office is struggling with staff levels that go back seven years. She proposed hiring a development review technician and two permitting technicians.
The code enforcement office requested four additional code enforcement officers that would help the department partner with sheriff's deputies to tackle dilapidated houses in crime-ridden neighborhoods.
Not every department head had a chance to address commissioners, though. Another budget workshop is set for July 1. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.