The economy is picking up steam with new housing construction leading the way, and property tax revenues on the rise.
But, that won’t mean Pasco County commissioners will have an easy time figuring out how to spend tax dollars and hold the line on tax increases.
Commissioners face large budget requests including an increase of $6.5 million from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and smaller requests, including a circulator bus route in Land O’ Lakes. The bus route would cost about $365,000 in the first year and about $308,000 a year after that.
The county’s staff is not recommending a change in the millage rate, but homeowners could see an increase in taxes based on rising property values, officials said.
Commissioners met in a June 13 workshop to gather information about the upcoming 2017 budget. They heard multiple presentations from county department heads.
The largest dollar amount increase request is from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, which is seeking a 6.1 percent increase, which amounts to about $6.4 million in new funding. If approved, the sheriff’s budget would be $110 million in 2017.
This is the second consecutive year that Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco has sought a budget increase of more than $6 million.
Last year, commissioners approved $2.7 million to cover pay raises and benefits, as well as ongoing expenses for body cameras and helicopter maintenance.
Nocco is seeking another round of pay raises to make deputies’ salaries more competitive with other law enforcement agencies in Hillsborough, Pinellas and the City of Tampa.
Data from the sheriff’s office shows the area’s average starting salary is almost $46,000, while Pasco’s is about $41,000. Pasco’s starting salary is the lowest in the region compared to Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Pinellas counties and also lags behind St. Petersburg, Sarasota and Tampa.
The sheriff’s budget also includes money for 10 new positions for the sheriff’s office and 15 for other agencies.
There also is a request for about $700,000 for laptop computers, an item previously funded from the Penny for Pasco program.
Last year’s budget discussions surrounding the sheriff’s budget often grew contentious.
But after his presentation, Nocco told The Laker/Lutz News: “Everybody has been positive. Everyone is working together.”
Other department heads also made their case for new revenues to increase staff and add services.
Libraries administrator Nancy Fredericks asked for staff needed to restore operating hours for libraries to pre-recession years.
Currently libraries are open five days a week and one night a week per location. Fredericks hopes for nearly $500,000 more to operate libraries six days a week, and on two to four nights a week.
Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore asked Fredericks to give commissioners options on operating hours. “Maybe we can work our way toward this in two to three years,” he said.
Commissioners approved a master plan for the county’s parks and recreation facilities in 2015. It would take an estimated $222 million to implement the plan.
As a start, Kelley Boree, parks, recreation and natural resources director, proposed hiring a consultant to craft a pilot campaign to help launch the plan. That would cost $75,000, but Boree said many counties hire consultants for this reason.
There is no one on the county’s staff that has the skill set to perform this work, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker said.
“To me this is critically important because our parks are so underfunded,” said Pasco County Chairwoman Kathryn Starkey. “I’m talking about all types of recreation…We’ve been lax in this forever.”
The county also is proposing to hire a lobbyist to promote Pasco’s interests in Washington D.C., at a cost of $60,000 a year.
Richard Gehring, the county’s strategic policy administrator, said Pasco would see benefits from a “closer relationship” with federal agencies, especially those dealing with transportation and environmental matters.
Pasco County Commissioner Ted Schrader said he wasn’t opposed to the proposal, but said the county should avoid duplicating efforts already done by the Florida Department of Transportation.
“You’ve got to be specific on lobbying efforts on the federal level,” he said.
The building department wants about $403,000 to hire four new inspectors and a records clerk to implement a code enforcement ordinance approved amid controversy among Land O’ Lakes business owners.
The ordinance is meant to focus on cleanup efforts along major corridors including U.S. 41, U.S. 301 and U.S. 19. But, building officials now say they don’t have enough staff to enforce it.
In subsequent years, enforcement costs would be about $290,000.
Commissioners will meet individually with county staff in the next weeks to make their budget preferences known.
The budget will be presented on July 12, with final approval in September.
Published June 22, 2016