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County budget increases sought

It is too early to tell whether residents of Pinellas County will be paying more in taxes next year _ but the early signs are not encouraging. Sheriff Everett Rice has submitted a budget that calls for $11-million in new revenue _ a 13.6 percent increase over his current budget, County Administrator Fred Marquis said. In addition, Karleen DeBlaker, the county clerk, is asking for a budget increase of 7.5 percent.

And a special task force reported Tuesday that the county might need to raise taxes in order to pay for the rising costs of providing care for the medically needy. The task force has requested $10-million in new revenue from next year's budget.

The County Commission heard presentations from the county's five elected constitutional officers Tuesday. In coming weeks, commissioners will see the budget requests of other county departments, Marquis said.

The County Commission approves two primary tax rates each year. One is for residents of the unincorporated area who receive municipal services from the county. The other is a larger countywide tax that pays for services the county provides for all Pinellas residents.

Included in the list of services all county residents receive are parks, jail guards, the court system, health services, animal control and emergency medical services, said Assistant County Administrator Dora Harrison.

Because new construction was expected to generate a modest 4 percent more in property value for the county, Marquis instructed department heads to increase their budget requests only about 4 percent, he said.

By doing so, the county would be able to keep next year's taxes at the current year's level, Marquis said.

But there is a hitch. Some officials say they are not able to hold their budgets to a 4 percent increase.

The Sheriff's Department, for example, presented a budget that contains $2-million in contingency or reserve funds to pay for 74 new corrections officers at the Pinellas County Jail. The guards are necessary to comply with the requirement of the state Department of Corrections, Rice said.

In addition, the Sheriff's Department has asked for $1.2-million in contingency funds to pay for 30 new bailiffs at county courthouses. The bailiffs were recommended by two hired consultants. "New court facilities and more judges have combined to produce an immediate need for additional positions in court security," Rice said.

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