Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles is seeking a budget increase of 6.1% over her budget request of last year.
But that percentage increase relates to her re- quest from last year, not the actual amount she received.
Her request in this year’s budget is about $14 million. That’s roughly double of her current budget.
While the new request is being reviewed, the clerk and county remain locked in a legal dispute over how much funding the county is required to provide for the clerk’s operations.
Alvarez-Sowles outlined her current request during a recent budget workshop with the Pasco County Commission and county administration.
She said her request is essentially made up of three parts: the continuation of her current services; the balance of funding she did not receive last year for the Criminal Justice Information System (CJIS) funding; and funding for court-related local requirement — which refers to the Annex Courthouse in New Port Richey.
The clerk said the continuation of services requested in the budget refers to the services provided, along with increases for employee compensation, increased for the Florida Retirement System costs and increases in health insurance costs.
She said her budget includes a 5.3% average pay increase for employee compensation, but she told the board if the county’s average increase exceeds that, she would expect that her budget would be increased to reflect that. She said that County Administrator Dan Biles has agreed to that request.
The second part of her budget request refers to expenses related to the CJIS, which the clerk contends the county is required to pay, under state law.
Last year, the county agreed to pay $117,000 of those costs — far short of the costs for administering CJIS.
“My office has been paying the county’s responsibility since January of 2017.The county agrees that it is responsible for the IT (information technology) expenses and has agreed to fund this expense in the next fiscal year. My office can no longer fund the county’s responsibility.”
Her $14 million request also includes approximately $7.3 million for the operation of the annex courthouse in New Port Richey.
The clerk contends the cost for the annex courthouse also is the county’s responsibility, under state law.
But County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder the court case involves both the courthouse annex and the CJIS costs.
Steinsnyder said that before last year, the courthouse annex had never been classified as a local requirement.
“The big scary number is the $7 million number,” Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano said. “How can that be justified to go from $6 million, you go to $14 million?”
Steinsnyder said he doesn’t believe the court- house expense is a local requirement.
“The clerk disagrees with me.And that’s going to be the big ticket in the declaratory judgment action, between the county commission and the clerk,” he said.
The court also will decide whether the clerk is entitled the CJIS expenses, Steinsnyder said.
“We are litigating both of those items and it may be that the clerk isn’t entitled to the CJIS funding, either,” Steinsnyder said.
Alvarez-Sowles responded: “I doubt that.”
Alvarez-Sowles told the board: “I don’t have revenues to cover the expenses.”
Because she doesn’t have sufficient revenue, she said her office’s expenses are supported through a trust fund.
“Other clerks’ offices are funding the deficits in my office for court-related operations. I don’t put money into that trust fund. I receive money from that trust fund and it is only the clerk’s money that goes into that trust fund,” she said.
Beyond what she has requested in the $14 million budget, Alvarez-Sowles reiterated her request the county provide for her employees whatever the average increase it gives to county employees.
Plus, the clerk said, her current budget doesn’t include the impact her office will experience as a result of the county’s decision to shift jail operations from the sheriff’s office to the county’s control.
A specific request regarding those impacts needs to be delayed until more information is available, she said.
She also mentioned the current request does not include back pay for the CJIS component or the courthouse annex — from last year’s request.
County Administrator Dan Biles said he will not be making recommendations on this year’s budget requests until he has more information from the property appraiser’s office.
Published on June 8, 2022.