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County taps reserves for $134,000 printer

They have helped spend more than $500,000 on unbudgeted expenses this year, but county commissioners Ed Collins and Bonnie Zimmer drew the line Tuesday at a $134,000 proposal to buy a new printing system.

This time, though, they wound up on the losing end of a 3-2 vote.

Other commissioners agreed with the staff recommendation to spend reserve money on an electronic printing system that will help the tax collector print tax notices. County Administrator John Gallagher said in a memo to commissioners that buying the $134,650 Siemens Nixdorf system is "imperative" for producing documents that can be scanned into a computer efficiently.

"It was not a budgeted item," Collins complained after calling for the purchase to be removed from the commission's consent agenda. He said, and Zimmer agreed, that the purchase should be placed in next year's budget rather than come from reserves set aside in the current budget.

Gallagher told the commission that the printing system would be used by all branches of county government and that it would help Tax Collector Mike Olson meet his October deadline for printing tax notices. Olson, he said, had difficulty last year with the current printing system, which regularly produced documents that could not be scanned into the computer system.

That explanation satisfied Commissioner Sylvia Young, who moved "on behalf of all the residents of Pasco County" to buy the system.

The vote was a switch from how commissioners have handled several other major unbudgeted expenditures during the past fiscal year.

Last fall, Commissioner Hap Clark joined Collins and Zimmer in spending $400,000 from reserves to cover the down payment on buying the $1.1-million Central Pasco Professional Center in Land O'Lakes. Then, in April, they voted to spend $112,000 in reserves to supplement the budget of Clerk of Court Jed Pittman, who said he could not afford to give his employees raises without it. In both of those cases, Commissioners Young and Ann Hildebrand opposed the unbudgeted expenses.

What distinguishes the unbudgeted printing system from the expenditures for the Land O'Lakes office building and the clerk's office?

"I'm not going to respond to that (question). I have three calls to return, and I just got back in the office," Zimmer said Tuesday afternoon.

Collins said he sees a big difference between those expenses.

"The Land O'Lakes building was an investment," he said. "We're not spending money, we're investing it.

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. In the case of the clerk of court's office, we're dealing with workers who were denied funding for raises."

During budget deliberations last fall, Collins unsuccessfully argued the clerk's office should have received more money in its budget. And he and Zimmer have repeatedly noted that buying the building in Land O'Lakes will enable to county to stop spending $90,000 annually renting office space.

Tax Collector Olson, reached in his office Tuesday, said the upgraded printing system will greatly speed up the process of churning out tax notices and ensure that Pasco promptly receives tax revenue.

Even without regular problems in producing documents that are easily scanned, the existing printing system takes seven days, 24 hours a day, to print out all the notices, while the new system will complete the job in about two and a half days, Olson said. He said county officials have been talking about upgrading the printing system for several years.

Olson, a Democrat, noted that Republicans Zimmer and Collins voted "to help each other" and buy the Land O'Lakes office building and that both supported supplementing the Republican clerk of court's budget. But in April both balked at allowing Democratic Sheriff Lee Cannon to spend $55,000 from a special account on a used plane, and now both opposed buying a piece of equipment that would benefit the office of a Democratic tax collector.

"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it sounds political to me. They keep showing their stripes," Olson said.

Zimmer dismissed that suggestion.

"It has nothing to do with being a Republican," she said. "It has nothing to do with anything except proper accounting procedures."

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