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Sheriff needs to rethink his methods
A Times Editorial
Published February 1, 2008
Pasco Sheriff Bob White's olive branch comes with thorns. ¶ White, in remarks to reporters Wednesday, said it was time for the County Commission and the Sheriff's Office to work together to devise a county budget in the wake of voters approving a constitutional amendment that will lower property tax collections to the county's general revenue fund an estimated $16-million next year.
The conciliatory approach was welcome, but short-lived. White's statements included criticism of commissioners for not granting the sheriff a 14 percent spending increase in the current budget year; a naive assertion that the tax-cut amendment supported by White has nothing to do with his office; and an observation that the sheriff's operations will be unscathed as long as commissioners treat law enforcement properly.
It is an astounding lack of leadership from a two-term incumbent sheriff. Denial is not a desirable attribute from the county's chief law officer. White just lost the opportunity to hire 10 new deputies because a $710,000 escrow set aside for law enforcement won't be tapped by commissioners who said they will not authorize hiring new officers just to furlough them Oct. 1.
(It is the same dilemma facing the county's emergency services department. Fire Chief Anthony Lopinto must confront a $2.7-million cut from his budget financed by property taxes. The current spending plan includes money to hire the 10 firefighters and emergency responders to staff a new station being built near the Pasco-Hernando border east of U.S. 19 at Heritage Pines. Thursday, both Lopinto and Assistant County Administrator Dan Johnson said they don't know if the county will be able to hire the personnel for the station that is expected to open in September.)
Likewise, the sheriff and his staff would better serve the public by taking calculator in hand to devise their own budget reductions, particularly with a planned jail expansion likely to require as many as 60 new employees to staff it in 2009.
White contends the detentions operations should be separate from a law enforcement appropriation, yet he does not advocate turning over the jail to the private sector. It is not an ideal option, but White can't be locked into status quo thinking, either. He previously resisted attempts by the county to consolidate human resources and fleet management operations.
White's comparison to other counties' per-capita law enforcement spending is tiresome considering he doesn't account for the residential nature of Pasco's tax base nor the acknowledgement that he takes more than half of the county's property taxes each year. It also ignores need and efficiencies. The Pasco Sheriff's Office, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement statistics, protects an area that has a crime rate 25 percent lower than the state average and has a case clearance rate above the state average.
For the first five years of White's administration, the Sheriff's Office received nearly all the funding it sought from commissioners, including consecutive years of substantial salary increases in 2004 and 2005. White's response in 2006 was to characterize his office as a developing nation and to tell commissioners he had low-balled his budget requests to them over the years.
Wednesday, White said Pasco's law enforcement spending is three decades in arrears. It is hard to make that argument, considering past acquiescence by commissioners. If the department is stuck in the 1970s, the sheriff is the one behind the wheel of the Pinto.