NEW PORT RICHEY — Last month, county commissioners told Pasco's constitutional officers they needed to cut their budgets by 5 percent.
The sheriff increased his proposed spending plan by $3.9 million — or 4.6 percent.
"I don't think they were talking to me," Sheriff Bob White said at a press conference Tuesday, where he unveiled his proposed budget for next year.
"They know I can't" cut my budget, he said.
A good chunk of that increase would go toward hiring 28 new road patrol deputies, to be split between the Embassy Hills and Holiday areas. White proposed to pay for them through the lease or sale of the old New Port Richey jail, which ceased housing inmates last year after the Land O'Lakes jail was expanded.
"I'm sitting on $10 million here," said White, alluding to what he believes is the value of the old jail. "If we don't try, then shame on us."
The sheriff called the plan for more deputies his "West Side Surge." Although crime rates in unincorporated Pasco County dropped 7.8 percent in 2009, White said criminals are getting a "foothold" in Embassy Hills and Holiday.
"We need these deputies," White said. "This isn't a wish list. This is a need."
Commissioner Michael Cox said the board was "absolutely" referring to White's budget when it called for a 5 percent spending cut. They even sent him a letter May 27 spelling out the request. The sheriff spends nearly 40 percent of the property taxes collected for the county's general fund.
"He's the big fish in the pond," said Cox. "The water level in the pond is going down, so everybody's got to be on a diet."
Budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said Tuesday that Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley and Property Appraiser Mike Wells had hit the 5 percent target. Clerk of Courts Paula O'Neil submitted a budget with a $37,000 cut, about a 1.3 percent decrease.
Commissioner Jack Mariano agreed with Cox.
"It was across the board," Mariano said of the requested cuts. "I certainly didn't expect (the sheriff) to come up with any new positions."
White said his increased budget is not a luxury, but a necessity. He and his staff aren't getting raises for the third year in a row.
"This is maintenance," he said. "This is simply maintenance."
White also wants to hire four communications officers, an advanced nurse practitioner to work at the jail, a bailiff, a school resource sergeant and an investigative aide.
"Law enforcement needs to be a priority in this county," White said.
In recent months, Pasco commissioners have whittled what started out as a projected $15 million deficit down to $5.8 million after taking a number of steps, including drawing on reserve accounts and hiking ambulance fees.
County administrators are working with their departments to come up with more cuts in coming weeks to balance the budget.
Commissioners also decided to change how they finance the sheriff's law enforcement budget. Instead of covering all of his expenses from the general fund — the pot of money that also pays for such services as libraries and parks — commissioners plan to create a separate property tax for road patrols, detectives and other law enforcement costs. Commissioners would then lower the tax rate for the general fund.
The sheriff's countywide costs — the jail and court bailiffs — would remain in the general fund financed by all Pasco property taxpayers. Property owners in the four cities with their own police departments would not pay the special property tax for county law enforcement services.
This is another contention between the sheriff and the commissioners.
"I stand firmly against it," White said. "Our citizens can't stand another tax."
Commissioners get their proposed budget on July 13.
Over the summer, commissioners will hash out the details of their budget and determine how much the sheriff gets for his.
White acknowledged he's asking for more money, but pointed to his idea to sell the jail: "We're offering them a solution," he said.
He's convinced the commissioners were talking to everyone else — and not him — about that 5 percent budget cut.
"They know me better than that," White said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.