Sheriff Chris Nocco avoided a clash with county commissioners Friday when he released a budget proposal calling for no new deputies and no pay raises.
His proposed $86.3 million budget is still $2.9 million higher than the current year. That is mostly caused by higher fuel and medical insurance costs, as well as an expiring federal grant used to hire 24 deputies three years ago.
But commissioners have been preparing for that grant to run out. Over the past three years, they've set aside $2.4 million to offset the sticker shock, which nearly offsets the higher figure Nocco requested. The sheriff said because of lower retirement costs, he only needs to request $1.1 million for the formerly federally funded deputies.
Even though the official request did not include raises for Sheriff's Office employees, Nocco said he still wants them.
"We hope, by working with the county, that we can give our members raises," Nocco said.
The agency has not been able to give pay raises for five years. Nocco said his agency has lost some veteran employees who found higher paying jobs elsewhere.
It appears unlikely that commissioners will grant Nocco's request for raises.
"I think everybody is sensitive to the economy still being soft," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand.
Said Commissioner Henry Wilson: "It's kind of hard to do that in this economy."
As opposed to former Pasco Sheriff Bob White, who was at odds with the county and often demanded what he said the agency needed, Nocco said he left wage increases out of his proposal because a hardball approach would not foster good will with commissioners. His approach instills "more of a team environment."
"We are all in this together as a county," he said.
Commissioner Ted Schrader said he appreciates that Nocco did not request more deputies or significantly more funding.
"It appears the sheriff is well aware (of) the struggles the board will be dealing with," he said.
Most elected constitutional officers, including Nocco, were required to submit their budgets to commissioners Friday. The sheriff's budget dwarfs those of other elected officials, taking up nearly half of the county's operating fund.
Property Appraiser Mike Wells trimmed his budget by 4.3 percent, to slightly more than $4 million. Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley proposed a 4.9 percent decrease, to $2.8 million. And Clerk of Courts Paula O'Neil asked for $2.7 million for the portion of her budget funded by the county, roughly the same as the current fiscal year.
Tax Collector Mike Olson's budget is reviewed by state officials and isn't due until August.
The county budget is set for discussion next week as commissioners grapple with lower-than-expected property values. County budget chief Mike Nurrenbrock calculated a new "rolled-back" property tax rate to offset an expected average drop of nearly 6 percent.
Officials had planned on a 4 percent drop. For a $150,000 home with standard exemptions, that would have translated into an extra $40 in taxes for county government and fire service. Under the new proposal, that same home would pay $63. Those figures are based on a home that hasn't lost value.
What a property owner actually pays, of course, depends on individual circumstances. Owners whose values dropped by the county average would end up paying the same amount in taxes as this year.
Commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposed tax rate at their meeting Tuesday in Dade City.
Lee Logan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.