Pasco commissioners are making their 2014 budget season more difficult than need be. Part of that is a ploy, but part of it is an inability to act decisively.
Commissioners' initial round of fiscal machinations last week surrounded the proposed budget from Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco. Until they do legal research, commissioners said, they could not endorse using more than $900,000 in Penny for Pasco sales tax dollars for the agency's proposed vehicle purchases. The 2004 sales tax campaign said the money would buy marked patrol cars, but Nocco is seeking to replace cars used by detectives and some other staffers.
The commission's caution is understandable as an attempt to act in good faith toward the electorate. But prior commissions already deviated from that plan by allowing the Sheriff's Office to buy motorcycles and pickup trucks with Penny for Pasco money. This year should be no different. Nocco is proposing to buy smaller, less expensive cars for detectives rather than pricier patrol units. It's prudent spending and the commission shouldn't hesitate to support it.
Later, the topic moved from law enforcement to libraries. Commission Chairman Ted Schrader suggested closing two library branches to balance the general fund budget with a minimal change to the property tax rate.
Shuttering the New River and South Holiday library branches could save more than $800,000 annually. But this hare-brained idea is little more than a gambit to build public acceptance of a higher tax rate. Had Schrader been serious about trimming the proposed 7 percent tax rate increase, he could have asked his fellow board members to re-examine proposed across-the-board salary increases for all employees.
The library issue is a familiar debate that need not be revisited. Commissioners discussed, but declined to close library branches five years ago, opting instead to slice evening hours and then limiting operations to just five days each week. Schrader suggested closing the library branches serving Holiday — an area in need of significant redevelopment — and Wesley Chapel — the heavy growth corridor in southern Pasco.
This idea should be abandoned as counterproductive to the commission's long range development plan. Commissioners should enhance the quality of life in Pasco County, not hinder it.