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SHERIFF ASKS FOR CLUE ON BUDGET; GETS IT

Commissioners say the department must share budgeting pain.

To pitch his request for a big spending increase, Sheriff Bob White showed up in full uniform, complete with well-shined shoes and sidearm.

He spent an hour leading the County Commission through a 62-slide PowerPoint presentation, warning that his agency had fallen behind growth and needed more money and positions. Fifteen minutes later, commissioners gave White their response:

No.

"Everyone else is stepping in line to cut, cut, cut. And you're coming in with an increase," Commissioner Jack Mariano told White as the sheriff made his bid.

"And frankly, we're going to need you to cut, and it's going to have to fall in line."

Other county departments have whittled spending requests to minimal or no increases for next year because of state-mandated property tax cuts.

White, however, asked for a $11.2-million increase, which would raise his budget to $94.7-million next year. He wanted 109 new jobs.

"I had hoped the commission would subordinate other things to public safety," White said to reporters. "I never expected ... to be at zero budget coming out of this meeting.

"That gives me great pause."

Nevertheless, the commission ordered him to come back next week with a budget showing no increase in spending.

White said he will rework his request in time for another meeting with commissioners next Wednesday. But after Tuesday's meeting, a reporter asked White whether the board was making law enforcement a low priority.

"It's not anything, in my view, that they haven't always done," White said. "But again, it's because they don't have the perspective. I tried to bring that perspective to them and share that with them."

Consider it heard and rejected.

The county's budget has included 96.9 percent of White's formal requests from 2002 until this year, county budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said.

And even if the sheriff's budget doesn't go up a cent this year, the county must find additional cuts, Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand told White. The proposed overall budget has a $15.8-million shortfall because of the tax cuts.

"We just want to try keep the lights on," she said.

"Madame chairman," White said, "give me a clue at what you're - "

"I think you just heard my clue," she replied.

White used his PowerPoint presentation on a big screen to argue that his agency's funding pales compared with those in surrounding counties. He said it is causing strains in a growing county with rising crime. Paperwork gets pushed aside, he said, and preventive police work is lost because his agency is "strapped."

Using the law enforcement services side of his budget this year, the sheriff reported the per capita cost in Pasco is $136.74. He said the comparable average for other local agencies is $227.

Commissioners and county staff bristled at that comparison, suggesting that when all law enforcement expenses are included, per capita spending is higher. The county also is paying for workers' compensation, communications and a jail expansion, for example.

By Commissioner Michael Cox's account, Pasco's overall per capita spending is $228. But he and Ted Schrader said an exact figure would require audits of the other agencies.

White and the commission also tussled over Cox's suggestion to combine duplicated operations to save money. Both the county and the sheriff have fleet management garages, and departments for purchasing, human resources, technology and dispatch.

The sheriff, however, said combining the tasks would strip him of authority granted in the Florida Constitution. It also would take away his control of people working on squad cars.

Asked afterward if he would agree to combine departments and use the savings to add more uniformed personnel, he said that would be "penny-wise and a pound foolish."

Tuesday's meeting was set up to vote on specific spending decisions, but those are now at least a week away. The commission must approve the overall $1.2-billion budget by the end of September.

Cox and Commissioner Pat Mulieri signaled some support for spending more money for a few dozen deputies or detention guards. But commissioners Hildebrand, Mariano and Schrader suggested any increase will be a tough sell.

White could appeal the ultimate decision to the Florida Cabinet and Gov. Charlie Crist. But White cast doubt on that option.

"I don't think it's a secret that it's Tallahassee that has mandated the situation we're in," White said.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com and (727) 869-6232.

What they said

"We didn't know what the Legislature was going to do to us. Now that we know, everybody has got to cut."

Commissioner Jack Mariano

"The fact that we run the law enforcement on a basis of being very cost conservative should be a badge of honor for you. I think that's our duty to our citizens, it's run things as efficiently as we possibly can."

Commissioner Michael Cox

"Depending on what happens in (the property tax referendum in) January, then we have to go back and say we gave you those positions, but oh by the way, we've got to take them back."

Commissioner Ted Schrader

"I don't think anybody will argue that deputies aren't important and detention people aren't important."

Commissioner Pat Mulieri

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