Guest column | Sheriff Bob White

Pasco County Sheriff's Office needs bigger budget

Although, it has been a difficult decision, I have decided to appeal my budget to Tallahassee. The Sheriff's Office has requested additional positions and these are all front-line personnel. There is no administrative growth, nor are there any pay raises in my budget request.

In recent years, I have cut back on administrative staff, going from two in-house attorneys to one, and eliminating the positions of accreditations director, chief pilot and accreditation's secretary.

All of these positions were moved to front-line service personnel.

Additionally, I have eliminated law enforcement accreditations and asked all of my command staff to cut back on operational expenses. I have also suspended our sick leave buy-back program, and our step (longevity) plan. Finally, Sheriff's Office employees are looking at a fourth year without pay raises. These austerity measures have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars over the past few years while putting more deputies on the streets.

I imagine the Pasco Commission will tell you times are tough, and they don't have the funding. This is simply not the case. The County Commission, in a meeting as late as Sept. 8, put $2 million of property tax dollars into a hurricane cleanup fund. There had been no previous plan to do so. They have budgeted more than $13 million toward a new IT/Supervisor of Elections Center that the supervisor does not want.

What's most disappointing is why they did this. When asked why, one commissioner publicly stated: "How do you effectively say 'no' to the Cabinet (referring to a sheriff's appeal) when you have the money sitting there?" So, this dispute is not about whether the commission has the money. It is about a 10-year battle with my County Commission over their failure to recognize, in good times and bad, that the first responsibility of government is the safety of its citizens. This is a bold statement, I realize, and I make it with great hesitancy. But when looking at other comparable counties, it becomes very clear that not only is it true, but what I face is strictly a Pasco County problem.

Whether you measure my budget by the ratio of deputies per 1,000 people, arrests made per deputy, or UCR crimes reported per 1,000 people, Pasco's Sheriff's Office would still need well over 150 deputies to even catch up to its peers.

Particularly troubling is the purpose for my request was to bolster key areas on the west-side of the county. These areas are unique in that they were once grand retirement communities that are in decline due to changing demographics. Those demographics — seniors in the heyday of their retirement mixed with a significant amount of transient renters — has become a day-to-day ticking time bomb that must be met offensively by my office. Sadly, within 12 days following my request and pleas from both these senior communities and the deputies that patrol the area, three brutal murders were committed — one against a 94-year-old retiree.

I was told at the beginning of the process to cut my budget 5 percent. There was no asking, no conversation about what could and could not be done — just an order, signed by the county administrator, telling me to cut. After I let the commission know this was not feasible and why, they told me I could have last year's budget. The commission never questioned the need for more deputies — to the contrary, several commissioners were quoted as saying they believed they were necessary. When I challenged them with my needs, they just pointed out how gracious they had been in the past to fund most of my budget requests, never mind the fact that most of what I was asking for in those years was just my base budget from the previous year. For example, this year the commissioners gave me no new dollars in my budget, but ridiculously stated they approved 96 percent of my request.

So to be clear: I do not wish to be here. Time and time again, I have asked the commission to negotiate, all to no avail. For 10 years, I have moved on and done the best I could with what resources I have. I am very proud of our results. But the facts are clear: After 10 years of battles, we are beginning to see the toll from the lack of troops in the crime rate averages compared to other counties. It is with all of this in mind, and the complete unwillingness of the commission to engage in meaningful dialogue or deliberation, that I find my hand has been forced. I hope you the citizens of Pasco can help.

Pasco Sheriff Bob White was first elected in November 2000.

Pasco County Sheriff's Office needs bigger budget 11/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 7:04pm]

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