Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Sheriff looks to 7 percent budget increase as jail population grows

DADE CITY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco on Tuesday told county commissioners his office needs millions of dollars in additional funding to staff the jail's third floor and pay for more patrol vehicles and training.

Nocco met with commissioners in a 90-minute workshop to discuss his proposed $93 million budget, which commissioners must debate before final adoption in September.

"This is based on need not on want," Nocco said.

In addition to increased staff at the jail and more police vehicles, the plan calls for a 3 percent, across-the-board wage increase for workers and an additional $210,000 for deputy training, $508,000 for technology and $179,000 for fleet maintenance.

The plan reflects a 7 percent increase over last year's budget and comes as commissioners are hoping to trim a proposed 7.8 percent increase in the aggregate millage rate and a potential 5-cent-per-gallon hike in gas taxes for road maintenance.

"My hope is he'll be able to go back in there and find further reductions," Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said.

Nocco and other sheriff's officials said they might be willing to pare the office's spending request. They asked, however, that certain priorities remain funded, specifically, the staffing requests and new vehicles.

The Sheriff's Office is requesting $900,000 to purchase 43 vehicles using Penny for Pasco, a local option sales tax approved by voters last fall. Sheriff's officials said many vehicles are so old they're breaking down, adding to maintenance costs.

Staffing is another problem, Nocco said. The shortages at the jail are so acute the office is limited in how many inmates it can place on the third floor — all this as the jail's average daily population is expected to soar over the next 10 years. Currently, the average daily population is 1,487 inmates. Because of growth, that number is expected to increase to 2,137 inmates by 2023.

The sheriff is requesting $621,000 to hire 27 civilian "control room operators" to help handle the growing population. The move would allow more inmates to move to the third floor and free up deputies to oversee the housing units. Currently, 128 inmates are housed there.

Another problem related to the jail's population growth is inmates' medical costs. Many suffer from diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular problems, in some cases fueled by years of drug abuse, and more pregnant women are showing up in jail, officials said.

The Sheriff's Office proposed hiring more medical professionals, including six nurses, to help oversee inmates' medical needs and cut down on outside medical contractors.

County staff, working with the Sheriff's Office, recommended that officials cede to Nocco's staffing requests. But the county also suggested some cuts, including trimming $2 million from the sheriff's budget.

A revised version leaves in place the 3 percent salary increase and 75 percent of the requested amount for staffing. It also anticipates $1.6 million in retirement benefits.

County commissioners are expected to discuss the sheriff's budget, as well as other county budgets, in coming weeks. They are set to take a final vote Sept. 24.

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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