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Pinellas County officials hold line on budget proposals

The Pinellas sheriff's proposed budget meets the county's demands to keep spending in check next year, but he's still asking for $6.8 million more than he got this year.

If Sheriff Bob Gualtieri's 2012-13 budget request is granted, it would climb from its current $206.3 million to $213.2 million, an increase of about 3.3 percent. The request is about $500,000 less than the $213.7 million target that county officials set for the sheriff's budget.

The increase is caused by rising costs of such things as health insurance and gas.

Also adding to the increase is $1.6 million for the Safe Harbor program. That was not in this year's budget because it was paid from outside funding that will be depleted by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year.

Pinellas Safe Harbor, 14840 49th St. N, is a shelter designed to be a safe haven for homeless people who require services to get back on their feet. It's a collaborative effort of the Sheriff's Office, St. Petersburg, the county and homeless advocacy groups.

Safe Harbor houses about 400 people a day, Gualtieri said. If not there, those people would end up in the already overcrowded jail, pushing Gualtieri to open two more housing units at a total cost of about $4.5 million. Safe Harbor actually saves the county about $2.9 million, he said.

Gualtieri's budget is one of eight submitted to the county this week. Those budget requests — from the clerk of court, property appraiser, tax collector, elections supervisor, judiciary department, state attorney and public defender — showed requests that ranged from 11 percent less to 1.4 percent higher than the current budget.

In short, everyone held the line on spending.

But holding the line isn't going to help the general fund, which provides some of the money for those departments. The fund is facing an $11.9 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year because of reduced property values.

The fund is also facing a long-term deficit that could climb to $37.7 million by 2022.

"There is a gap that has to be closed," Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala said.

He said the County Commission plans to fill the gap by taking money set aside for the past three years to help the county until the economy improves. But there is only about $28.6 million in that account.

Other solutions could include raising property taxes, but LaSala said it's too early to talk about that. The commission will be discussing the options before July 10 when LaSala submits his proposed 2012-13 budget.

The commission also plans two budget outreach sessions. One is scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Safety Harbor City Hall, 750 Main St. The other is planned for 5 p.m. May 15 at St. Petersburg City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N. Gualtieri is scheduled to present his budget there.

Pinellas County officials hold line on budget proposals 05/03/12 [Last modified: Saturday, May 5, 2012 12:18am]

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