Pasco Sheriff Bob White is in a savings mode. It is a good start to what is expected to be a difficult budget year for him and county commissioners who must authorize his spending plan.
However, White must emphasize transparency in budget negotiations. Those talks turned cantankerous a year ago when commissioners declined to fulfill his proposed 14 percent increase in order to meet a state-imposed spending cap.
For the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, White is offering a nearly $85-million proposal, down more than $1-million from his current budget. But it includes an acknowledgement the spending plan will need to be amended to add $4-million to hire and train the personnel required for an expanded jail in 2009.
In other words, the sheriff is actually seeking an $89-million budget, or a 3.5 percent increase, at the same time the county is anticipating as much as a $16-million revenue shortfall attributed to falling property tax collections from Amendment 1.
The sheriff shouldn't be shy about the numbers. The new corrections officers and other workers are a necessary addition to the previously committed capital cost of ending jail crowding.
That White is seeking to cut spending elsewhere is a laudable policy change considering earlier this year he suggested cuts from Amendment 1 stopped at the sheriff's door. Hardly. His agency takes more than half of the county's general fund property taxes and more cuts should be expected.
We trust White will continue to whittle his accounts and not rely on election-year hysterics. Over the years, White has characterized his department as chronically underfunded while simultaneously allowing civilian and nonemergency employees to have take-home vehicles and publicly purchased gasoline for commuting and personal errands; retaining a $24,000-a-year consultant for four years to advise the department on personnel matters; providing bottled water for employees at an estimated cost of $25,000 a year; and acquiring for himself a no-bid SUV for nearly $36,000, or roughly twice the cost of a typical police cruiser.
The 2009 budget proposal means no raises for employees and no capital purchases. The bottled water and management consultant disappeared eight months ago and the take-home car policy ended over the weekend. That was the easy stuff.
Now, White must work with commissioners and their staff over the next four months to finish crafting a law enforcement and corrections budget that serves the public needs but meets the spending reductions voters demanded in approving Amendment 1.