Elections Supervisor Brian Corley needs to work on his timing. Two days after Pasco commissioners approved next year's county budget, Corley decided he didn't need a new elections center. At least not yet.
His ill-timed flip-flop might score a few political points, but it complicates a capital budget that earmarks $13 million for the long-delayed elections center for his office and a data processing facility for the county's information technology department.
As was to be expected, Sheriff Bob White seized on Corley's announcement as a way to finance a $4 million expansion of the sheriff's payroll to add 28 new deputies. Spending one-time construction money on recurring personnel costs is imprudent and also fails to recognize Corley's admission that his office will still require new space in the future to store privacy booths, house computer equipment and provide room for training.
Corley said his decision and the financial lobbying by White — Corley's former boss — are unrelated.
"This doesn't involve the sheriff,'' said Corley. "If he thinks it does, he's flattering himself a little too much.''
Regardless, Corley's self-described leadership demonstration would have been more effective over the summer as commissioners and their staff worked to balance a budget with a $14 million drop in the general fund from the continued free fall of property values.
Corley has been cognizant of the commission's financial pressures. He submitted a reduced budget as requested and cut his spending in the past. In 2007, during his first full year as elections supervisor, Corley agreed to delay construction of the elections center to free up money for a jail expansion. But, those decisions came before commissioners finalized the budget.
During this year's budget season, it's been full steam ahead on the new building with Corley's staff telling the county it needed to be up and operating in the new building no later that Dec. 16, 2011. Now, Corley's tardy epiphany means the county is spending $746,000 for the design and engineering of a planned two-story building intended for two tenants, one of whom now says he can suffice temporarily in his current facility if more storage space can be found. It's a significant gamble because there are no guarantees construction prices won't increase during a delay.
In vetting Corley's proposal, commissioners shouldn't just eagerly deviate from the original construction schedule considering the supervisor didn't propose to scrap a new elections center, just postpone it. His proposal also doesn't account for the needs of the county's information technology department, which has been seeking additional space since at least 2005.
If Corley wanted to escape the politically painful burden of championing a new government building during a down economy, he has succeeded. If he truly wanted to demonstrate leadership, he's a little late.