NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco announced that he will hand off the job of running the jail to Pasco County government at the start of the new fiscal year October 1.
That will mean about 300 employees of the Sheriff’s Office will become Pasco County employees and the $50.3 million the county pays the sheriff to run the jail will remain in Pasco’s account.
In an eight-minute video aired for corrections employees, Nocco explained that the decision was difficult but that current employees would keep their current pay, rank, tenure and position in the Florida Retirement System.
Nocco explained that he wanted to tell them this before rumors circulated. He said they would get answers to their many questions soon.
The change, he said, “is not because of the lack of hard work” by the jail staff. Instead, Nocco cited financial concerns, which he has previously told the Pasco County Commission have been an issue for him.
In December, he told commissioners that he needed more jail space and the funds to build it and that he was concerned about the rapid growth in the county. While those concerns have been around for years, he told commissioners, “It’s not going to go away. In some way, somehow, it’s going to have to be dealt with.”
In 2018, Pasco voters approved a bond issue that is expected to raise $132 million for a jail expansion. In recent months, Nocco sent a letter and held meetings with commissioners and his top officials to emphasize his concerns that the expansion isn’t progressing as expected and is instead facing a financial shortfall that will scale back the project.
The bond issue was supposed to bring the jail in Central Pasco another 1,000 beds, but now only 540 are expected, making the expansion inadequate to meet the county’s current needs before it even gets started, Nocco said in his presentation. The current bed capacity for the jail is 1,432. But jail officials have had to manage hundreds more inmates than that at times. A temporary addition expanded capacity, but it is years past its expected lifespan.
A master plan created several years ago showed a need for 2,535 beds by 2024.
In the video to employees, Nocco said that the growing cost of contracts has only gotten worse. Even the rise of gasoline prices at 50 cents per gallon has increased his costs $30,000 a month. The county does have reserves to cover such unexpected expenses.
Nocco has also told county officials that he is concerned about the impact of ongoing county growth. His budget does get a benefit from that. He is traditionally given 50 percent of the property tax money collected from new construction and increased values. Last year, growth gave him a $12 million financial increase, which he is using in the current budget.
Nocco also told employees that there are counties in Florida that do run jails. He also said he didn’t want to consider privatizing the jail. “This is the best thing for us moving forward,” he said.
Nocco was joined in the video by Pasco County administrator Dan Biles. He said the county welcomed the employees under the county umbrella and he expected a “seamless transition.”
A formal statement from Pasco County spokesperson Tambrey Laine called the transition “a big change for everyone.”
“Pasco County continues to grow and evolve, and we recognize the challenges the Sheriff’s Office is facing. Corrections plays an essential role in our criminal justice system and public safety as a whole, and Pasco County is committed to ensuring a seamless transition with a positive outcome for everyone — including our team members and the more than 600,000 people we serve every day,” Laine said.