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County banks BP dollars, balks at bonus for employees

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners put some finishing touches on the proposed 2015-16 county budget this week by forgoing a one-time bonus for non-public-safety employees and banking, at least temporarily, the settlement money from BP over the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

County Administrator Michele Baker first proposed a budget in July that carried a status quo property tax rate and 3 percent raises for employees. Changes authorized by commissioners since then include:

• Raising the combined tentative tax rate for the general fund and the fire tax district about 5 percent, or nearly one-half mill, to a combined 9.4112 mills. That equates to just less than $9.42 of tax for every $1,000 of a property's taxable value.

• Plugging in raises averaging 5 percent for deputies, firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

• Fulfilling the capital requests from Sheriff Chris Nocco, including a $98,000 X-ray machine for court security that had been left out of the sheriff's initial budget request.

• Adding two code enforcement officers.

• Adding an ambulance and crew to the fire station along County Line Road near the Heritage Pines community in northwest Pasco.

This week, Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. unsuccessfully sought a one-time 2 percent wage bonus for all county workers to match the salary increases for public safety employees. It carried a $1.6 million cost, but drew little support, particularly in light of the residential road repairs confronting the county from the recent floods in west Pasco.

That repair bill is now estimated at $6 million to $7 million, said Baker. Traditionally, the county offers a 25 percent discount on some residential road assessments, which could put the county on the hook for up to $1.75 million, with the rest coming from property owners along the repaired streets.

"We're assessing residents to fix their roads and we're giving out bonuses?'' Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked.

Wells noted that firefighters, EMTs and deputies had earned their raises, but "we need to do the same to our employees which is earned.''

The money could have come from the $5.8 million BP settlement. Instead, commissioners agreed to save it for now, with commission Chairman Ted Schrader suggesting it could be seed money to jump-start paving assessments from the recent flooding.

The first public hearing on the proposed 2015-16 budget is set for Sept. 8 in Dade City. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. A final decision on financing residential road repairs is not expected until after the budget is adopted.