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Sheriff tries to protect budget

The numbers in Bob White's claims are not relevant, says the county's fiscal chief.

By THOMAS LAKE
Published May 30, 2007


In the annual spectator sport that is his budget process, Sheriff Bob White has blazed through the preseason.

On the front of a recent in-house newsletter, in an article about those killed in the line of duty, his headline asked us to "Honor officers' memories by appropriate funding."

Then you had Tuesday, still days before the release of White's budget proposal, when he delivered what amounted to a pre-emptive command to county commissioners:

Hands off my budget and no one gets hurt.

His presentation sounded scary and appealed to common sense. He gave out documents with numbers and charts. But when a reporter relayed one of the sheriff's claims to county budget chief Mike Nurrenbrock, this is what he said:

"Those numbers are not relevant."

White came before reporters Tuesday morning at the administration building in New Port Richey dressed in the same slate-gray and forest-green uniform his deputies wear. He charmed the crowd with phrases like "it ain't my first rodeo" and scenarios about neighbors inflicting "knuckle-bumps" on each other. He was worried that the rumblings from Tallahassee about property tax cuts could lead to cuts in his budget, and he warned that such a thing would be dangerous.

"We can't get to the point where the bad guy expects us not to show up," he said. "Because then everybody's at risk."

If cuts would not serve the citizens of Pasco County, then, what would?

Level funding?

A modest increase?

No.

"We would have to double our law-enforcement budget just to be average," White said.

He was referring to a bar graph he'd handed out that compared per-capita law enforcement spending among the 12 largest jurisdictions in the state. It was something the Orange County Sheriff's Office compiled for the 2005-06 budget cycle, and it showed Pasco at $126 per person per year - dead last.

The highest was Miami-Dade at $402; second-lowest was Polk at $196.

The sheet of paper contained another bar chart, this one showing that the sheriff's share of the total county budget gradually shrank to 7.61 percent this year from 11.25 percent in 1999.

That may be technically true. But it paints an incomplete picture, Nurrenbrock said. Most county money is beyond the commissioners' control. It's mandated by state or federal law to do things like build schools or pave roads. The county has found several funding sources in those years, he said, and in most cases commissioners did not have the option of using that revenue to fund the Sheriff's Office.

More accurate, Nurrenbrock said, would be to show the sheriff's share of the county's general fund, over which the commissioners have discretion. And over the past 12 years, Nurrenbrock said, that portion has hovered right around 56 percent.

Thomas Lake can be reached at tlake@sptimes.com or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6245.