NEW PORT RICHEY — For several months county commissioners have listened to firefighters’ representatives complain about delayed response times, the need for new fire stations and firefighter shortages.
So it was not surprising Tuesday when the board members got a first look at early budget planning for 2023 that fire safety funds were on top of several of their lists. Also during the preliminary budget talks, they also sought clarification on additional spending sought by the Pasco County Sheriff and the Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller.
The county won’t get early property tax estimates for a few days yet. But using a number mirroring last year’s 10.8 percent increase in property tax revenue, which would generate an additional $27.2 million, County Administrator Dan Biles gave a preliminary view of spending priorities to gather feedback. His early spending plan anticipates no increases in the property tax millage or the fire tax.
Pasco Budget Director Robert Goehrig detailed the list of ongoing fire station renovations and the new stations which were on the schedule including the station in Suncoast Lakes; which is 87 percent complete; the new station for Beacon Woods which will be bid soon; and stations in Asturia and Wyndfields for which architectural work is starting.
Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick urged speeding up those stations which are just in the planning stages, but Biles said that the county developed a plan several years ago to build new stations with bond money so that when they open their doors, the county can afford to operate them. While the pandemic delayed projects, he said the county is trying to stay on track.
Several commissioners questioned why architectural work was needed station by station since the county was using the same plan for each one. But Biles said each needed to be customized both for the site and for the services it would provide. Because each was put into a schedule, there wasn’t money for moving up projects.
Fitzpatrick said new stations are needed sooner. Biles said that the preliminary fire budget does include adding peak-hour rescue units staffed by paramedics.
Commission chairperson Kathryn Starkey suggested the county might consider adding private service providers to help ease the load. She also expressed concern about Sheriff Chris Nocco’s need to improve his ratio of deputies to citizens. County officials have offered Nocco funding for 10 new deputies to fill that need but budget officials have said that plan depends on the actual property tax revenue total.
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Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles presented her request for complete funding for court technology services and the cost of operating a second government center in New Port Richey. The unfulfilled requests last year that landed her in court with the county. She also said her budget request does not include staff pay raises or money she will need to perform extra financial duties when Nocco turns jail operations over to the county later this year.