Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Sheriff wrestles with budget cuts amid inmate growth

Pasco commissioners have heard the complaints for months.

The jail's population is so high there's no more bed space. Kitchen, laundry and medical services are stretched to the limit. And it's only going to get worse as more offenders end up behind bars.

So when commissioners met last week to pore over Sheriff Chris Nocco's budget for next year, they agreed to boost funding to cover additional staff and higher operating costs at the jail. The money would allow more inmates to move to the jail's third floor, relieving overcrowding and freeing up deputies to oversee the housing units.

Now, it seems, some of that money is coming back.

Heeding taxpayers' demands to cut costs to soften a projected 7.8 percent hike in the aggregate millage rate next year, commissioners Tuesday trimmed the sheriff's budget by $500,000.

Nocco said he'll have money to cover the new hires — including 27 civilian "control room operators" — but the funding loss will cause a gap in operating costs for food, laundry and other inmate services.

"We'll have to go back and re-evaluate, but I can tell you it will be very painful to our operations," he said.

The cuts come as the jail's inmate population is soaring: The average daily population is expected to grow 44 percent in 10 years. Plus, many inmates suffer drug and alcohol addictions, leading to more health problems and increased medical costs.

Officials saved $200,000 after privatizing food services last year. Nocco has offered to return the money to the county's general operating fund, but now says he might need it. It wouldn't plug the shortfall, he said, but could help as he seeks other ways to save money.

"This is not a budget where we're getting gold-plated cars," he said. "This is a needs budget."

It's not all bad, though. Commissioners left in place $900,000 from Penny for Pasco for unmarked sheriff's vehicles.

They also made other cuts to the county budget, including:

• Four additional code enforcement officers.

• Three months of funding — six months instead of nine months — for six new employees in the planning department.

• $250,000 toward a facilities master plan. This came from choosing a less-costly option.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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