NEW PORT RICHEY — Sheriff Bob White says that the economy right now is the worst he's seen in his 58 years.
So, instead of asking for all of the Penny for Pasco sales tax money the Sheriff's Office is due next year, he announced Friday he will take only what he says the agency truly needs, about a fourth of his estimated share.
"I feel like I'm doing my part," White said.
The Sheriff's Office would have gotten about $2.5 million from the Penny for Pasco in the next budget year beginning Oct. 1. But White announced Friday he would take only $600,000 to replace 30 marked patrol cars and an agricultural unit truck.
He will hand the rest of the money — about $1.86 million — back to county officials, who are bracing for a nearly $30 million shortfall next year because of declining property tax revenue.
County Commissioner Ted Schrader said he appreciated the sheriff's gesture.
"This is great," he said. "These are difficult times."
But it remains to be seen what kind of impact the extra dollars will have on the county's budget shortfall.
When voters approved the Penny for Pasco back in 2004, it was for very specific uses, including school construction, road improvements, environmental lands purchases, patrol cars for the Sheriff's Office and other equipment. The money can't be used for salaries.
White originally planned to use next year's Penny revenue to replace 80 marked patrol cars. But on Friday he said he could just buy 30 cars for now and replace the other 50 sometime down the road.
White said he isn't worried about regretting the decision. It's better to forgo new cars if it saves a job.
"I can't afford to lay anybody off," he said.
Schrader said the money White is forgoing won't help with the budget shortfall specifically – but it does help the county overall.
"We all have to tighten our belts and do more with less," Schrader said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at (727) 869-6229 and firstname.lastname@example.org.