Governor Rick Scott has approved funding in the state's budget to help deputies and child protective investigators in Pasco County.
The budget was signed into law just after noon April 17. It includes $1 million for the Pasco County Child Protective Investigations Unit, an amount recently called into question by a watchdog group.
Child protective investigators are civilian employees of the sheriff's office who investigate allegations of abuse and neglect in Pasco County.
The additional funding will allow the sheriff's office to fill vacant positions and add a new squad to work with the investigators, Sheriff Chris Nocco said in a press release.
"The protection of our children is paramount and to succeed as a county we must ensure the protection of our future,” Nocco said.
The PSO CPI budget is funded through a state grant, not county government, and has remained the same for the last three years, even as the unit’s caseload has increased. "This has resulted in not only a lower per capita investigative cost per case, but also in lower salaries for Pasco CPIs compared to their counterparts in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties," the press release stated.
The additional funding will raise the CPI budget to about $5.6 million, the release stated.
“We thank our local legislators, especially Speaker Designate Will Weatherford who spearheaded this, for standing up for Pasco's most vulnerable at-risk children who deserve the same level of funding as other adjacent counties," Nocco said.
"We are extremely efficient with taxpayer dollars but we are at a critical point because of the prescription pill and illegal drug epidemic that directly affects innocent children,” Nocco said.
An additional $75,000 in the state budget will be used in enforcement action such as overtime for detectives, crime prevention and drug-use cessation efforts, and medical cost reimbursement for inmates addicted to prescription pills, the release stated.
This funding is part of a separate $1 million package that state legislators provided during the recent budget session to combat prescription pill abuse. The majority of those funds will go to Baycare Health Services for a campaign that includes the addition of detox beds at its New Port Richey facility, according to the sheriff's office.
“It's such a big problem in our state and in Pasco County in particular," executive director of Baycare Behavioral Health Doug Leonardo said in a press release.
According to the release, an August report from the Florida Medical Examiners Commission shows Pasco and Pinellas leading the state in deaths linked to prescription drug overdoses. The report showed that of 2,710 deaths statewide in 2010, 763 occurred in Pasco and Pinellas.
In addition, more babies were born addicted to prescription pills in Pasco than any other county in Florida, the release stated.
“We are extremely fortunate to be able to enhance the protection of our children in Pasco,” Nocco said. “Our workload has sadly increased due to the abuse and illegal use of prescription pills over the years and this funding reflects our needs.”
Read more about today's budget signing in Greg Giordano's blog.