NEW PORT RICHEY — Can a pickup truck count as a patrol vehicle?
Sheriff Bob White wants to use $33,528 in Penny for Pasco sales tax proceeds to buy a marked truck for his agriculture unit, which investigates such matters as cattle rustling, illegal dumping and animal abuse.
Voters approved the sales tax in 2004 after being promised the money would be spent on a list of specific items, including patrol cars for the Sheriff's Office.
Sheriff spokesman Kevin Doll said the truck fit the bill because deputies assigned to the agriculture unit often travel to off-road locations, "places that cars can't go."
County officials say using the money on the truck represents a break in policy and are asking commissioners to decide at their meeting Wednesday whether to allow the purchase.
"We were very specific about what we were going to spend it on," said county budget director Mike Nurrenbrock.
Commissioners have been flexible before. In 2008, they voted unanimously to allow White to use $100,000 in Penny money to buy seven motorcycles for traffic patrolling.
That decision came after a dust-up between the Sheriff's Office and county staff over the motorcycles.
The bikes had been leased out of White's budget, but the sheriff asked that Penny money be used to buy the motorcycles outright.
County officials did not get back to the Sheriff's Office for months, and commissioners ended up making their decision only days before the leases expired.
The sheriff's truck request isn't exactly new.
White sent Commissioner Jack Mariano, then chairman, a letter in February 2009 reporting that he only needed $600,000 of the roughly $1.86 million in his projected sales tax allotment for the 2009-10 fiscal year.
He proposed spending the money on 30 marked patrol cars and the marked pickup truck for the agriculture unit.
Nurrenbrock said Friday that officials with the Sheriff's Office had assumed that commissioners had given the nod to all those expenditures during last year's budget workshops.
The 30 marked cars were okay, he said. But he said the board needed to approve changing the policy to allow the truck purchase.
"The board never approved it," he said.
He said county and sheriff's officials had gone back and forth over the matter in recent months.
"Finally when it came time to order the vehicle, they brought it up again," he said.
The only way to resolve the question, he said, was to put it before commissioners next week.
Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said she didn't recall any discussion about the truck and hadn't had a chance to review the request. But she said her initial reaction is that the truck purchase would not be significant deviation.
"It's still a vehicle," she said. "It's just a different kind of vehicle."
Doll said the request to use Penny funds on the truck was also a recognition of a tight budget year.
"I believe with all the budget cuts over the year it's cutting pretty thin for money we have (for) such purchases," he said.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.