DADE CITY - Tommy Gonzalez hasn't accepted the Pasco County administrator job, but he spent Tuesday morning listening as staff members presented about $5 million in new budget requests at a commissioners' workshop.
Some of the proposals, such as nearly $1 million to implement a new employee health plan, could end up saving the county money before the year is out.
Other programs would streamline county services or add personnel to beef up staffing in permitting and code enforcement - areas where the commissioners think the county government needs improvement.
"I think the staff did a very nice job in presenting the business plan initiatives," Gonzalez said as he was whisked away to a series of meetings that took up most of the day.
Gonzalez, who has served as city manager of Irving, Texas, since 2006, was the commissioners' unanimous choice to succeed longtime administrator John Gallagher, who retired May 31 after 31 years. Gonzalez is negotiating with Commission Chairman Ted Schrader for a possible three-year contract.
Gonzalez arrived late Monday with his wife and two sons to introduce them to the area. "What I'm hoping will happen is my family will go down there and will get a feel for it and will see the same things I saw," he said in an earlier interview. "I'm really going to listen to them. I want them to be onboard, too."
Pasco County is twelve times the size of Irving and has double the population. "It's a sizable population," Gonzalez said. "I like a challenge, and it does have its challenges."
One of the challenges commissioners will face this year is finding money in the budget for a few new programs and giving all county employees 3 percent pay raises - their first in six years.
Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes said that funding all the programs and the raises - plus adding Sheriff Chris Nocco's full budget request - would force the county to increase its tax rate by a full mill, to 7.8 mills. An increase of that size would require a unanimous vote or a public referendum.
"We're going to have to whittle this down over the summer," Grimes said.
Gonzalez took notes during the budget workshop, and commissioners sought his input on a few budget items. He endorsed a proposal for the county to allocate some of its economic development money to design a "virtual shell building."
At $300,000 the virtual building - it includes an industrial site, a set of building plans and permits - is less expensive than building a speculative shell building. Gonzalez said the city of Irving was successful marketing similar projects.
"Nobody in the state of Florida that we know of is doing this," economic development planner Melanie Kendrick said. "They're doing it in the Carolinas and in Texas."
Gonzalez also spent part of the afternoon with state House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. Much of their conversation centered on family.
"I just talked about what it's like to live in Pasco County and to raise a family here," Weatherford said. "I'm pretty bullish on where we're going as a county. I think he's intrigued."
Gonzalez said his contract with Irving ends Dec. 31, and the earliest he could start would be in two months. "I told (Schrader) I felt like it was important for me to get my budget completed - that it was something I needed to do as a professional," he said.