A budget controversy involving the Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller’s office and Pasco County Commission has landed in court.
Pasco County Clerk & Comptroller Nikki Alvarez-Sowles filed a petition for declaratory and supplemental relief on Nov. 12, in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court.
The lawsuit wants the court to determine whether the county may phase-in funding for the multiagency criminal justice information system (CJIS) and whether the county should pay for the increased costs for duplicating court-related operations at the county’s annex court.
Alvarez-Sowles reminded the Pasco County Commission, during the board’s Nov. 9 meeting, about a letter she’d sent to them on Oct. 27, asking them to reconsider their budget decisions.
She noted that the board had not responded to her letter, had not put the issue on its agenda and had not raised the topic during the meeting.
Having exhausted all other options, the clerk said she felt compelled to seek a legal determination over the issues.
“I am confident that my budget request is supported by law,” Alvarez-Sowles said.
She told board members: “This is not the conversation I hoped to have. The last thing I want to do is involve the courts in our dispute.
But, Alvarez-Sowles reiterated a position she has taken throughout the controversy: “The clerk’s office budget adopted by the board is inadequate.”
Commissioner Mike Moore responded by saying, “I hate that we have to go through this.”
Then, he said: “Just a question, if you look at the 2021 budget request, there was no local requirement in there, listed at all. There was no local requirement listed in the ’21 budget, so why was there in ’22?”
Alvarez-Sowles said at the time she submitted the budget, she informed county administration that her office would be doing a “deep dive” into Florida statutes to determine whether there was an issue with revenue sources coming into her office.
“The results of that deep dive into Florida statutes was that local requirement in the budget for 2022,” she said.
Moore persisted, asking why that wasn’t in the budget before.
The clerk responded: “That would be a question for the prior elected officials that were in this position. I can’t answer that question for you.”
The lawsuit notes that in December 2016, the clerk helped the county retire the mainframe system by upgrading the 1970s multiagency CJIS to a new system.
Before January 2017, the county maintained and paid for the multiagency CJIS, the lawsuit says.
After that, the clerk began bearing the costs.
“The law is clear that the county is required to pay for the costs of the multiagency CJIS,” the lawsuit says.
The county has acknowledged it is required to pay the costs, but County Administrator Dan Biles said the county can’t pick up all of those costs at once. He recommended phasing them in over a three-year period.
Alvarez-Sowles rejected that approach, saying the county is obligated to pay the expenses and it should meet its duty.
The other dispute involves whether the county should pay the expenses for the operations of the annex courthouse.
The clerk contends it should. The county contends it should not.
The clerk also asserts that the county “has the financial ability to pay fully and immediately fund its requirements.”
The county’s failure to do so, the lawsuit says, “has forced the clerk to divert other funding sources to the detriment of the clerk’s operations.”
Ryan Hughes, a spokesman for Pasco County, offered this response to Alvarez-Sowles’ action: “Since a lawsuit has been filed, we are unable to provide comment at this time.”
Published November 17, 2021