DADE CITY — If he needed to drive the problem home, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco came to his budget workshop Tuesday with a handful of resignation letters from deputies who left his department over the last two months for better paying jobs.
More than 100 deputies and supporters crowded into the commission chamber to back Nocco as he lobbied for his budget request to Pasco commissioners. Nocco is asking for $96.4 million for fiscal 2015, a $5.8 million increase over this year. He says the extra money is needed to stem the exodus from his ranks.
“They are here because they want to be a part of the Pasco Sheriffs Office,” Nocco said. “I got two more letters of resignation today. It's heartbreaking, and it's because of money.”
Last year Nocco submitted a $93 million budget, but commissioners approved $91 million, including an across-the-board 3-percent raise for all employees. It was the first pay adjustment in six years, but Nocco said it offered little incentive for experienced officers to stay with the department.
The letters of resignation reinforce his position. Dep. Eric Blomgren wrote that he was “solely leaving due to pay” because he could make $12,000 more per year if he left the county. Dep. Nicholas Disparti, who left to go work for the Tampa Police Department, wrote that “my decision to leave is based on a better financial opportunity elsewhere.”
Because employees went so long without pay raises, the deputies with five years of experience are paid barely more than a new hire. Nocco said that's where he's seeing the biggest departure, and it's why he wants $2.6 million of the budget increase to offer pay raises based on longevity. Nocco wants to give employees a 1-percent salary adjustment for each year of service, capped at 5 percent.
Pasco County will see a 4-percent growth in its tax rolls, the first significant increase since the start of the recession. But if commissioners keep the same property tax rate, that growth would only translate to an extra $5.8 million - the exact amount Nocco requested. That would leave nothing for the rest of county government, and Budget Director Annette Stahura said it would cost $3.9 million to fund employee pay raises for all of the other departments.
Commissioners said they were convinced they still need to address pay. Even though they raised the property tax rate last year by 8 percent, several commissioners said they want to keep it at the same level, if not slightly higher.
“We both want the same thing,” Chairman Jack Mariano said. “We want to take care of everyone.”
Nocco said those comments should give his deputies hope - and a reason to stay.
“I've already lost deputies, but I've got plenty of others who have applications in with other agencies,” he said. “They're waiting to see what happens with this budget.”