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Sheriff's math questionable
Sheriff Bob White's complaints of a county funding cut of 18 percentage points can be misleading.
By DAVID DeCAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published November 14, 2007
Sheriff Bob White listens as Col. Al Nienhuis, the undersheriff, makes their budget case to Pasco County Commissioners recently. White's take on his budget has been widely circulated.
[Brendan Fitterer | Times]
In community newsletters across the county, Pasco County Sheriff Bob White criticizes what county officials did to his budget.
He complains that they cut his agency's traditional share of the county budget by 18 percentage points, or $1.3-million.
In an internal memo, he told deputies that money for salaries "decreased significantly" and there's "no money to fund new positions."
There's a hitch with White's assertions: He's wrong.
The Sheriff's Office funding only dropped by 2 percentage points compared with past years. Money for salaries did not decrease significantly; in fact, the salary budget rose by $2.8-million.
"I can see where it might be a little confusing," said Col. Al Nienhuis, the undersheriff, though he stood by the thrust of White's statements.
Kevin Doll, White's spokesman, said the sheriff wasn't referring to an actual budget when he talked about the shortfalls. Rather, White was referring to a much bigger budget that he asked for but didn't get.
White requested money for 109 new positions, most of them full-time. He received money for only 16 crossing guard and traffic officer jobs, most of them part-time.
But the county set aside $700,000 more in reserve for new hires, though White needs county approval to use it. He can add 10 deputies if a statewide referendum to lower property taxes fails on Jan. 29.
White's version of his budget woes has gone out in the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce's November newsletter, and this month's newsletter for the Dade City chamber. It's on his Web site, pascosheriff.com, and led last month's version of The Sheriff's Report, the agency's own publication to the community. His message also appears in the November edition of the Trinity Citizen.
His memo to all members of the Sheriff's Office went out Oct. 18. While take-home squad cars were safe, White alerted employees that bottled water service would be discontinued because of the cuts.
"That was a very popular resource and benefit that employees enjoyed," Doll said, who put the savings at $20,000 to $25,000.
The fight over White's budget came as the county had to cut property tax rates this year under orders from state lawmakers. In doing so, the County Commission slashed White's request for a 13.4 percent spending hike to 3.1 percent.
Here's the disputed part of the sheriff's take, after he noted property tax revenue is going up $7.3-million for 2008:
"County leaders have continually stressed that the Sheriff's Office historically received about 55 percent of the property tax revenues. However, this year the Sheriff's Office is scheduled to receive only 37 percent, $1.3-million less than usual."
Nienhuis acknowledged that his agency's share of the total budget fell just a bit. But he said the 37 percent refers to how much money the sheriff received from a $7.3-million increase this year in property tax revenue. It would have been $1.3-million more if the Sheriff had received 55 percent or so of the increase in tax revenue.
Said Nienhuis: "Reading the whole paragraph. I think it's correct."
But the county budget approved at the end of September tells a different story. The sheriff's budget for this year is almost $86.1-million, representing 53 percent of the property taxes available. In four previous years, the agency's budget reflected 54 to 57 percent of the available property taxes. Property taxes are the Sheriff's Office's main funding source.
"I knew it was above 50 percent," said Mike Nurrenbrock, Pasco's budget director.
County Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said the sheriff's published accounts are not true - "absolutely not."
"He's just coming from a different set of numbers. What else can I say?" Hildebrand said.
Doll said local media have not considered the sheriff's arguments closely enough, and take too much at face value the county's arguments.
Doll and Nienhuis pointed out the Sheriff's Office money for law enforcement services is the lowest per capita among the 13 largest agencies in the state.
They said the Pasco law enforcement services budget went up 1 percent for this year, the second-lowest increase in the area, even though Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties had to make deeper property tax cuts than Pasco did.
"The commissions of many surrounding counties had much larger challenges to overcome in the way of mandated tax cuts," White tells his readers.
White, a Republican, filed last week for re-election in 2008, and has a Democratic challenger, former Capt. Kim Bogart.
But Doll and Nienhuis said the timing and thrust of the sheriff's messages have nothing to do with politics. The messages were written out weeks before White began his re-election bid.
"Keep in mind, it may be over for the people involved in the budget process," Nienhuis said. "But it's not over for the people who have to implement those budgets. And they have to live with it for a year."