Employees face state mandate of paying into pension plans
By Kyle LoJacono
Former Pasco Sheriff Bob White battled county commissions for months about last year’s budget, something that will likely be absent from current economic discussions.
White, who retired in April, requested a $4 million increase to contend with rising benefits and retirement costs, and to higher 28 new deputies and other workers. He settled on an additional $945,000, giving the department a total of $86.4 million.
Newly appointed Sheriff Chris Nocco’s first budget request is $3 million less than last year, avoiding those difficult and heated discussions.
“We are looking for a good relationship with the county,” said Nocco, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in April.
Along with the good will, the lower budget will help Pasco deal with projected budget shortfalls in other departments.
“Basically it’s a whole new world for us with this new budget proposal from the sheriff,” said Commissioner Jack Mariano. “I can honestly say I didn’t expect them to ask for less than what they received last year.”
Fellow Commissioner Ted Schrader agreed with Mariano’s sentiments: “It certainly demonstrates a spirit of cooperation between the sheriff’s office and the county commissioners. It shows he’s willing to work within the reality of the state everyone is living in right now.”
Most of the savings in the sheriff’s budget come from changes made by the state Legislature regarding government workers’ retirement funding. Such employees now have to contribute to their own pension plans.
Overall savings from last year’s sheriff budget is actually $4.5 million, but Nocco said the department plans to use the extra $1.5 million to hire 23 new employees, which would include three analysts to staff a new “intelligence-led policing” effort and eight nurses to improve medical care at the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center.
The rest of the money is slated to go to adding two new squads to combat pill mills and other illegal drug use.
Nocco said the budget illustrates a shift in philosophy, moving deputies to the areas where crimes are predicted.
“Instead of being reactive, we’re going to be proactive,” Nocco said. “That’s something I strongly believe in.”
Nocco did write a letter to the commissioners stating that the new law requiring his staff to contribute toward their own pension is essentially cutting their pay and asked them to, “address this pay issue if possible. … For their sake and ours, we need to work together to take care of them while they take care of us.”
The sheriff budget is the largest part of the county’s budget, accounting for about 40 percent of the operating funds. Pasco officials had targeted $4.9 million in cuts to close a $5.1 million shortfall in revenue projections.
A new spending proposal will be given July 12 before coming up with the final budget to go in place Oct. 1. Nocco’s budget will allow county officials to reduce cuts by more than half what was projected.
“(The commissioners) can say ‘we’d like to add that program back, or is there some way we can continue with this?’” said Pasco budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said of the wiggle room created by Nocco’s budget and other savings.