Pasco sheriff and county work on details of jail transition and budget

Sheriff Chris Nocco would still get 40 percent of the new tax revenue, down from his previous 50 percent.
County officials have agreed to give Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco another $1.68 million to add 10 additional deputies separate from his budget request.
County officials have agreed to give Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco another $1.68 million to add 10 additional deputies separate from his budget request. [ Times Staff ]
Published May 17, 2022|Updated May 19, 2022

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco’s announcement six weeks ago that he planned to hand off management of the jail to the county has touched off a mad scramble to sort out how to make it happen by October 1.

Step one: figuring out how to pay for it. Also on the table: figuring out how to run it and even how the books work.

It’s a lot.

Nocco offered one important peek earlier this month when he filed his annual budget request. It lowers his request from last year by about 25 percent, or about what it cost him to run the jail.

The sheriff is also seeking 40 percent of all new property tax revenue coming from fast rising real estate values, by far the biggest chunk for any one agency. But that is down from the 50 percent in new revenue he sought last year.

He has said repeatedly the money is needed to increase the number of deputies patrolling in a fast-growing county, saying his current rate per 1,000 residents is among the worst in the state.

In his budget request letter, Nocco wrote that, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Pasco ranks 64th out of 67 counties for the number of deputies per 1,000 citizens, at 1.06. That compares to 1.23 for Hillsborough, 1.86 for Pinellas and 1.32 for Hernando County.

“This directly impacts the service that we provide for our community,” Nocco wrote.

To that end, county officials have agreed to give him another $1.68 million to add 10 additional deputies separate from his budget request.

Overall, Nocco is asking for a budget of $121.9 million to pay for law enforcement and courthouse bailiffs, with most of it for patrol deputies and investigators. That’s down from $162 million last year.

County officials say that doesn’t mean that the county will be shortchanged in any way taking on the jail responsibility. The details of how that will happen are far from settled and regular meetings between county and sheriffs officials are ongoing, county administrator Dan Biles told the County Commission earlier this month.

The transfer of jail operations to the county “isn’t about money, but rather allowing the Sheriff’s Office to focus on law enforcement,” said Ryan Hughes, county spokesperson. ”It might appear as though the county will spend more money as a result of this transition; however, we believe we’ll be able to reduce operating expenses by finding operational and contractual efficiencies over the next few years.”

Nocco said when he announced the transfer that employees would maintain their pay level and their status in the Florida retirement system, which provides law enforcement with enhanced benefits compared to other government workers. Hughes said the former corrections officers “will have the same — if not better — benefits when they join the county,” and may see pay hikes after a pay study is done.

Nocco’s budget isn’t the only one affected. Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles submitted her preliminary budget proposal May 1 as well. She said she could not give a complete request until she knows the full effect of the jail transfer on her office, which will handle all of the financial changes involved.

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Alvarez-Sowles is still in litigation with the county over her budget from last year. She has argued that the county should have been providing her more funding because of its decision to have a second full-service courthouse in New Port Richey and that it should have been paying the full cost for information technology services that her office took over several years ago.

Her preliminary request is for $14 million, a 168 percent increase over last year’s actual allocation. She noted that the $14 million was only 6 percent more than what she asked for last year.