Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles is seeking a sizable increase in her budget and Pasco’s administrative leadership is pushing back.
Alvarez-Sowles has formally requested about $13.3 million in her fiscal 2021-2022 budget.
That’s nearly $9 million more than the constitutional officer’s budget this year.
She justified the request in an April 30 letter to Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley and his county board colleagues.
In that letter, Alvarez-Sowles wrote the proposed budget is necessary “to fulfill statutory responsibilities” for the coming fiscal year.
But it became apparent, during a June 8 county board meeting, that the substantial increase is unlikely to be granted.
Robert Goehig, the county’s budget director, touched on clerk’s request during a preliminary discussion of the county’s financial priorities for next fiscal year.
County Administrator Dan Biles weighed in, too.
In her letter, Alvarez-Sowles explained the “support for this increase is the result of a thorough re-examination of Florida law that prescribes how clerks’ offices in non-charter counties are to be funded.”
She continued: “The analysis identified the underlying reasons why the office is facing a breaking point in its ability to accomplish critical , statutorily mandated operations for the community, the Board of County Commissioners, and our many stakeholders, including county operations, justice partner agencies, outside auditors, and numerous other local, state, and federal agencies.”
The clerk said research “revealed oversights with the historical methodology of funding requests in that the clerk’s office did not ask the county to sufficiently fund it in accordance with long-established provisions in Florida laws.”
Alvarez-Sowles also offered a breakdown of the request, noting that county funding of board and court-related technology costs included in the request total $1,246,465.
She added, “county funding of court-related local requirements computes to $7,380,737.
Her proposed increase also includes increases for retirement costs and group health insurance, as well as a pay adjustment of 3% — totaling $365,734.”
Additionally, Alvarez-Sowles noted the clerk’s office “has demonstrated fiscal responsibility by cutting positions while implementing new technologies and efficiencies; however, funding is not sufficient to cover the cost of providing required , essential services.”
To underscore her argument, she said Pasco’s population has increased by 19% since 2010, and county staffing has increased by 39% during that time.
By comparison, the clerk’s office cut 11% of its positions due to funding shortages, she said.
“Circumstances beyond the control of the clerk’s office continue to impact its workload and resource needs,” she added.
The clerk cited other issues that are affected by inadequate funding, which include the ability to: attract and retain qualified applicants; to meet anticipated increasing service demands; and, to maintain proper reserves needed to plan for technological improvements.
Goehig addressed the clerk’s request.
He said the retirement and salary increases are already included in the clerk’s base budget.
The $1.2 million request for court-related technology has been moved onto the county’s list of business-plan initiatives — but has not yet made the cut for funding.
Addressing the additional $7 million request, Goehig said: “We don’t feel that’s an appropriate expense for the county. That’s also not funded.”
Alvarez-Sowles, who handles the clerk’s duties during board sessions, asked Oakley for permission to address the issue, which was granted.
“I didn’t know until right now, what the (administrator’s) recommendation is,” she said.
Funding for the court-related technology, would pay for equipment used for both court and board services work, she said.
She said her request was not a surprise because she’d been meeting with Biles and his team to talk through the details of the requested increase.
She said she had just recently received a legal opinion, regarding her budget request, from county attorney’s office.
Commissioner Mike Moore said the board takes its lead from the county attorney.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey agreed. But Starkey said the two sides should talk.
“I think it’s good to have a dialogue,” Starkey said.
She suggested it might be possible to fund the technology request with extra revenue coming in, due to higher-than-anticipated growth in the county’s taxable values.
Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick said a breakdown should be done to determine how much the new technology is used for board services and that the board should pay its fair share.
Alvarez-Sowles asked if she could meet with Biles and County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder to discuss the issue before the budget is finalized.
Oakley asked Biles to set up a meeting, which he agreed to do.
Biles said he had looked at the clerk’s numbers and noted there are some things the county would be more inclined to support, than others.
Published June 16, 2021