Sheriff nips budget request

While offering other county cuts, he backs off a bit on his $11.2-million spending increase.

By DAVID DECAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2007

NEW PORT RICHEY - Countering the County Commission's demands to cut his $11.2-million spending increase to zilch, Sheriff Bob White unveiled a slightly slimmer budget increase Thursday.

To lend a hand balancing the county budget, however, his agency created its own list of $15-million in cuts to other county departments - not that Pasco officials found them all prudent.

In a preview of his second budget hearing with commissioners coming up Monday, White agreed to trim his request from 109 new positions to 85. He eliminated new jobs such as detention officers, clerks and warrants clerk and detective.

He also sliced equipment purchases, although he shuffled spending to buy some items this year. All told, White would trim $1.4-million from his spending request for next year.

The sheriff dropped another $1.7-million because of reduced insurance and benefits costs, but those costs were decreasing anyway after revised estimates.

Originally, he requested a $11.2-million increase, bringing his spending next year to $94.7-million. But the commission has to cut $15.8-million to balance the county's budget, and told White not to increase spending.

The board has generally agreed on less than $3-million in changes in the overall budget, leaving a tough debate about cuts before approval is due in September. And if voters approve a statewide referendum Jan. 29 to cut property taxes further, more drastic cuts could be on the way.

If White does not accept the commission's ultimate decision on his spending, he can appeal to Gov. Charlie Crist and the Cabinet. But the sheriff reiterated his doubts about making such an appeal because lawmakers - and Crist - ordered the tax cuts.

"I think it would be a black eye on the County Commission, which is predominantly Republican, to put a Republican sheriff in the position to go to a Republican governor and predominantly Republican Cabinet to rule on their budget," White said.

White also said he would agree not to fill the 85 new positions if voters approve the bigger tax exemption Jan. 29 that could slash Pasco tax revenue by $25-million.

"It doesn't work like that," county budget director Mike Nurrenbrock later told the Times. "Because once the board designates the money and transfers it, that's it. And it (giving White the money for those positions) doesn't balance budget."

In a two-hour meeting with the Times, the sheriff and his staff used an 83-slide presentation to argue that the county could cut spending itself. White and a top aide, Col. Al Nienhuis, said they could turn the county's shortfall into a $3.6-million savings mostly by:

- Slicing reserve funding for vehicles, storm cleanup, emergency management, business incentives and payouts for insurance, totaling nearly $10-million. However, Nurrenbrock said some of those cuts would not affect property taxes for the sheriff's budget.

- Reducing spending on building projects by $4-million. The county is talking with Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley about alternatives to spending $3.4-million on a new Dade City center.

"Will all of that fly? Probably not," said Commissioner Michael Cox, who talked with White on spending. "Some of it? Probably."

In his meeting with the Times, White - who had resisted most interviews on his budget - said the county officials' budget cuts have been "minimal" despite top officials' descriptions otherwise.

He and Nienhuis also questioned why the sheriff was told last week to cut his spending, when property tax revenues went up $8-million thanks to new construction.

Nurrenbrock's answer: other revenue, such as state funds and money carried over, decreased.

According to Nurrenbrock, most county offices with increases used money other than property taxes. Other county offices had decreases totaling $26-million below requested spending.