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Nocco: Budget may not sustain detention operations

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NEW PORT RICHEY — Despite receiving most of what it wanted in its 2014 budget, members of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office are disappointed at what the shortfall may mean: a further burden on detention deputies.

County commissioners approved a $1.2 billion budget for fiscal year 2014, which began Oct.1. The sheriff’s office received $91 million but had asked for about $93 million.

The sheriff’s office will be able to target key projects in the new budget, while others will have to wait.

The first and likely most important is $1.9 million to staff the third floor of the Land O’ Lakes Jail to ease overcrowding at the facility.

Twenty-seven civilian members will be hired for the detention center’s control room, allowing sworn deputies to move from the room and be deployed within the jail. Also, four new detention corporals and four new detention sergeants will be added.

Despite the relatively small gap in the two budgets, sheriff’s office officials believe it may put detention deputies in a precarious position.

“Based on current inmate projections, the provided budget may not fund us to sustain our detention operations,” Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said. “Thus, we would have to pull resources from law enforcement functions if our projections stay on course. Overall, this has put us one major incident away from a fiscal hardship.”

The sheriff’s office contends they were not given funding for operating expenses, which includes food, paper products or other ancillary items needed to run the jail.

In May, the facility meant to hold 1,432 inmates reached its highest ever inmate count of 1,550. Trends point to the jail’s population continuing to rise in the coming years.

The difference in budget amounts also means the agency will not be able to purchase additional ammunition, uniforms, and computer software among other items, sheriff’s office spokesman Kevin Doll said.

County Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said there were several factors in why the sheriff’s office didn’t receive the full amount it requested.

Residential property values remained flat, which meant less tax dollars were collected. There were also raises that have been given to most county employees, including law enforcement members, for the first time in six years.

Finally, the county had to contribute nearly $4 million to the Florida Retirement System, he said.

“The board’s belief is that we provided the majority of the requests of the sheriff and he’s most appreciative of that,” Schrader said. “And it’s going to be the sheriff’s decision how he invests in those resources within those appropriations.

“The sheriff and I have a good rapport and good conversation and he understands that predicament that the board’s in.”

In addition to staffing the jail’s third floor, the sheriff’s office will use $900,000 to fund 33 new vehicles for detectives, forensic technicians and warrant officers. Detective vehicles haven’t been addressed in the budget since 2006.

The agency will use specially equipped Ford Fusions in an effort to keep costs down.

Another key need was funding at least six nurses for the jail, including a psychiatric nurse for those battling addiction while incarcerated.

Maj, Ed Beckman, court services bureau commander, who is in charge of the jail, said his group will make do.

“We’re going to make it because we have to make it,” Beckman said. “We’re a lean organization anyway.”

He said when compared to the sheriff’s office budgets in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties – Hillsborough has a proposed $376.5 million budget for 2014, while Pinellas has an approved $227 million budget — Pasco does well.

“They’re a little bit bigger, but if you quantify, we do a pretty good job at really stretching the dollar,” Beckman said. “I think by always having lean budgets, we’ve just been trained and accustomed to being creative on stretching the dollar as far as we can for the taxpayer.”

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