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Sheriff's costs still in budget

BROOKSVILLE — Sure, the cost of public safety takes a huge bite out of the county budget each year, but commissioners unanimously decided Tuesday that a separate taxing district for the sheriff was not the answer.

Commissioner Diane Rowden, who has pushed for the taxing authority several times over the years, even made the motion to kill the concept.

Instead, commissioners and county staff members said cooperation among all of the parties that keep Hernando citizens safe will make public safety functions more efficient.

A separate taxing district for the sheriff would have detailed just how many property tax dollars go to the sheriff's operation. Commissioners complained during last year's heated budget hearings that even though they made deep cuts in the county budget, they felt more citizen criticism than did the sheriff, whose budget actually rose.

The other big-ticket budget item is the cost of the jail contract, which the county administers. Interim county administrator Larry Jennings said the sheriff, the judiciary and the county have been looking for ways to trim those costs.

Officials are also exploring other options for financing the sheriff's operations. Jennings told commissioners he did not believe that pulling the sheriff's funding out of the budget and into its own district "is not going to get us to where we want to get.''

It would mean that parts of the sheriff's services would be pulled out and funding would have to come from multiple places. That would be counter to what the county had been trying to do, which is to consolidate rather than splinter services.

Rowden said she had talked to county staff and agreed with Jennings. "(The district) is not an issue we need to pursue,'' she said.

"We are all working toward a common goal,'' to streamline, said Commissioner Dave Russell.

The other commissioners also agreed it was better to work together, making it clear that Sheriff Richard Nugent's planned presentation on a taxing authority wasn't needed.

He said preparing the information took a lot of staff time. Commission Chairman Chris Kingsley said the time was not wasted. The information likely influenced the commissioners' vote not to pursue the issue.

The vote brought praise from audience members, including local activist Janey Baldwin, who earlier in the day characterized the discussion as the county's effort to get out of the business of financing the Sheriff's Office.

Baldwin also criticized the county's legal staff, calling them the "Coller Law Firm'' after county attorney Garth Coller. She suggested the legal department be cut to save hundreds of thousands of dollars and urged an audit to see what the five lawyers do all day. She also implied that the firm relies on the lawyers of insurance companies to do their work.

Coller called Baldwin's assertions "outrageous'' and "completely false.'' He noted that lawsuits involving Baldwin suing the county were one of the items that keep his staff busy.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Sheriff's costs still in budget 03/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 9:06pm]

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