Pasco County growth puts strain on budget

A tentative hike in storm water fees and a proposal to hire five additional K-9 deputies highlight growing demands on Pasco County’s budgets for 2016 and into the future.

At their June 9 meeting, Pasco County commissioners gave the go-ahead for Sheriff Chris Nocco to apply for a federal COPS grant that would pay 75 percent of the costs for five additional K-9 deputies.

The cost to the county for the deputies over three years would be about $757,000 in matching funds.

The application deadline is June 19, with grants announced in October. If awarded, the sheriff’s office expects no additional funding needed from the county’s 2016 fiscal year budget.

“We anticipate being able to absorb (the expense) in its entirety,” said Pasco Major Mel Eakley.

The sheriff’s office has current vacancies as well as funds from the Penny for Pasco program that could be applied in 2016 to cover salaries and equipment, Eakley told commissioners.

“I like the program. I think it’s a good program,” said Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano.

By 2019, however, the county’s budget would pick up personnel costs for the five deputies as a yearly recurring expense, fully funded by Pasco County taxpayers. A hike in the millage rate, which determines a homeowner’s property taxes, might be needed.

Another option would be to layoff the K-9 deputies hired through the grant.

A decision would be based on a “reassessment of what our budget looks like,” said Eakley.

Hiring additional K-9 deputies means the sheriff’s office can provide 24-hour coverage from this unit, he said. Currently, the drug and bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers are scheduled only on the night shifts, he added.

“We think it’s a great return on our investment,” Eakley said.

Pasco County commissioners also agreed to boost storm water fees by nearly 21 percent from $47 to $57 a year.

That’s not the final word, however.

“It can always come down,” said Chairman Ted Schrader.

Pasco County commissioners had to settle on a maximum rate that will be published in the annual notice sent to area residents from the property appraiser’s office. The deadline for providing the rate is July 15.

The final public hearing on the rate is set for Sept. 2.

In response to a query about the county’s growth driving the need for more services and revenues, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said, “That’s a growth curve. Yes, it is.”

The current $47 annual fee per residence was set in 2007 with the anticipation of collecting about $10 million a year. Revenues since have been closer to $12 million but are insufficient for a budget that covers operation and maintenance and capital improvement projects. Reserve funds over the years have all but vanished.

At $57 a year, fees are expected to increase to about $14.7 million a year. The funds would be used for maintenance chores, such as cleaning out ditches and culverts.

Without more revenue, there would be delays in service, Baker said.

“People would be on the waiting list longer,” Baker said. “We get new calls for service every day.”

Published June 17, 2015

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