DADE CITY — Pasco County's proposed budget for the coming year includes significant pay raises for employees, longer operating hours at three library branches, more code enforcement officers and a social media specialist to improve the county's branding.
What it doesn't include, at least not yet, is two-thirds of the money requested by outside charities and a cost study for dredging residential canals in coastal west Pasco.
Commissioners met in a workshop Tuesday in Dade City to hash out some of the proposed details within nine operating funds totaling more than $680 million for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
The budget proposal includes no change in the property tax rates for the general fund or the county's fire district. Those tax rates are 7.6076 mils for the operating budget and 1.8036 mills for the fire service. A mil is equal to $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value. Increased property values mean homeowners will see higher tax bills in the fall even with the status quo on tax rates.
The county's general fund also finances spending by four constitutional officers. Their requests for more money drew little scrutiny from the commission. The budget proposals included: Sheriff Chris Nocco, up 6.6 percent to $141.6 million; Property Appraiser Gary Joyner, up 2 percent to $5.7 million; Elections Supervisor Brian Corley, up 16.9 percent to $4.3 million; and the Pasco Clerk and Comptroller's Office, up 4 percent to almost $4.3 million,
Much of their debate focused on two topics: a $150,000 appropriation to develop a community plan — similar to the Harbors master plan — for the county's southern region that it calls its Gateways Crossing market area; and requests from four charities for a total of $625,000.
Commissioners agreed to a one-time allocation of $60,000 for Feeding Pasco's Elderly so the non-profit can reach a required $200,000 match of a privately financed endowment. They also agreed to set aside $150,000 for Premier Community HealthCare Group, which had requested $350,000 so it could tap an additional $556,000 from the federal government for indigent medical care. The commission declined requests for $150,000 from Pasco United Way, which already receives a $300,000 allocation, and $65,000 for the Coalition for the Homeless. However, board members left open the possibility of adding dollars for the charity groups before the budget is approved in September.
Commissioners also eventually agreed on the $150,000 market plan for the Gateways Crossings area along the State Road 54 corridor, but not before detouring into an extended conversation about the county's coast.
Commissioner Jack Mariano tried to persuade fellow commissioners to consider a different study to determine how much it will cost to dredge canals in west Pasco's waterfront communities.
"I don't want to just put another study on the table. I want to go do something,'' said Mariano.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, however, said the county should consider a coastal master plan beyond dredging to also include boat ramps and park amenities to boost tourism and commerce.
"There's a lot of opportunities to maximize, and nobody has taken a look at it,'' said Starkey.
Commissioners reached no final decision. Separately, the county plans a $100,000 study of dredging the channels at Gulf Harbors and Hudson, which will be paid for with settlement money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Highlights of the proposed budget include:
• Nearly $3 million for wage increases averaging 6 percent for county employees and almost $2.4 million for 7.8 percent raises for Pasco's unionized firefighters. In each of the prior two years, commissioners budgeted for 4 percent salary increases, but the higher figures this year came from recent wage and job classification studies.
• Restoring operating hours at the Centennial Park, New River and South Holiday library branches at a cost of $424,000. The additional dollars will cover the cost of hiring nine new employees so the branches can open on Mondays. A previous commission shuttered Pasco's libraries on Mondays in a cost-savings maneuver earlier this decade.
• Hiring a social media and graphic specialist at just less than $45,000 to help brand the county's image.
• Adding two code enforcement officers costing a combined $156,000 and hiring a building department field inspector to target unlicensed contractors at a cost of $77,358.
Commissioners did not act on Starkey's push to add a second lobbyist to work in Tallahassee.
The proposed budget will be the subject of two public hearings before its final adoption in late September.
Contact C.T. Bowen at email@example.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.