DADE CITY — Pasco commissioners quickly put the kibosh on Chairman Ted Schrader’s suggestion to close two libraries to help balance the budget.
It was one of more than a dozen spending decisions commissioners made Tuesday, including rejecting Sheriff Chris Nocco’s request for an additional $500,000.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said shutting down libraries, after their budgets have already been slashed 33% since the recession, would be taking a step backward.
“We’ve already reduced our hours,” she said. “We all have to decide what kind of community you want to live in. Having a quality place takes some investment.”
Closing the Centennial Park branch in Holiday and Wesley Chapel’s New River branch would have shaved $776,875 from the budget — if all of the positions were eliminated.
Schrader said he raised the idea in response to numerous calls and emails pleading with the board not to raise property taxes.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri challenged his reasoning. “How many people did you hear from? 25? 30?” she asked. “There are 435,000 people in Pasco County.”
The preliminary budget commissioners approved last month would raise the property tax rate by 8 percent, or $33 a year for the owner of a $100,000 home with a homestead exemption.
Starkey said she’s received the same emails as Schrader. “I heard from a lot more people who say they want a quality place to live,” she said. “We can’t attract businesses here when they drive by shuttered libraries, shuttered parks, and roads full of potholes. We’re just going to have to man up.”
Commissioners refused to increase Nocco’s budget beyond the $91 million in the approved budget, but they agreed to allocate $900,000 of Penny for Pasco revenue to buy unmarked cars for detectives and other vehicles. County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said the board would need to amend the original 2004 resolution, which spelled out what types of vehicles could be purchased with the tax money.
“I think a good faith argument can be made that unmarked detectives’ vehicles that are used for law enforcement equally provides the public safety aspect that Penny for Pasco was designed to do,” he said.
Commissioners were forced to make some unexpected cuts because they overestimated the amount of excess fees that would be returned from the tax collector’s office by about $700,000. Newly Appointed Tax Collector Mike Fasano also told commissioners he would be giving his employees raises of either $1,000 or $1,400, depending on whether they make more or less than $40,000 a year. But the impact of the raises won’t be felt by Pasco County until fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1, 2014.
“There’s no guarantee that all employees will get the merit bonus,” Fasano said.
Commissioners cut funding for four new code enforcement officers but agreed to allow County Administrator Michele Baker to hire a full-time public information officer. Baker said the county can no longer rely on a tourism director, whose salary is paid by tourist taxes, to function as the county spokesman.
“We need someone who can be our spokesperson, especially during emergency situations,” she said.
“This is the same person who will update our website and maintain our social media accounts.”
Code Enforcement Director Danielle Helmick said she has reorganized the department and set up mobile offices so code enforcement officers could file reports from the field, which will save them time and fuel costs. Since the start of the recession, the number of code enforcement officers has dropped from 24 to 14.
Also in the budget, about $50,000 to install credit card machines and parking meters that accept credit and debit cards at county parks.