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Pasco sheriff's budget compromise reasonable but tardy

Pasco Sheriff Bob White blinked. Three times actually, but the end result is a reasonable, though tardy compromise in his $4 million budget dispute with county commissioners.

A day after rejecting the commission's offer to cover mandated increases in pension and health insurance costs, the sheriff acquiesced on the eve of a state hearing in Tallahassee. Money for those expenses, originally projected at $1.6 million, but reduced to $945,000 through salary savings, was the best deal White was going to get. The sheriff should have recognized this, saved the histrionics and suggested such a settlement months ago.

Instead, White made a pair of feeble and poorly received counter-offers (asking for $3 million initially, then dropping his request lower) over the past week. And he remained combatant even after picking and losing this political fight, telling Times staff writer Jodie Tillman he exposed the commission's wasteful spending.

Indeed, there was wasteful spending on both sides. The county had tapped a consultant and was prepared to pay $25,000 to bolster its case, and both the sheriff and the county frittered away valuable personnel time that could have been put to better use in these times of shrinking resources.

But White, who advocated the ill-conceived idea of raiding the county's capital account set aside for one-time construction expenses in order to finance his plan for expanded and continuing personnel costs, shows little concern for the task facing commissioners.

White must manage a law enforcement agency and jail while protecting more than 400,000 people on a slightly larger budget allocation of more than $85 million. Meanwhile, the commission has drained swimming pools, cut operating hours for libraries and recreation centers, shrunk its fire department and reduced its general fund spending nearly 40 percent over the past three years.

The county's tax roll has lost a third of its value since 2008, and additional voter-approved tax exemptions — supported by White — mean less money to run basic government functions. The county expects to confront another multimillion-dollar deficit before Oct. 1, the start of the next budget year.

If White is still convinced west Pasco can't survive without the additional 28 new deputies he pushed for, he should reconsider his current staff deployment or else work with commissioners to devise a palatable way to finance new personnel costs for his department.

Expecting a bigger piece of a shrinking pie is unrealistic and it shouldn't take the state Cabinet to point that out.

Pasco sheriff's budget compromise reasonable but tardy 02/15/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 15, 2011 4:34pm]
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