DADE CITY — After being placed on the chopping block, the popular Officer Friendly community policing program was rescued by county commissioners on Tuesday.
The program includes two sheriff's deputies: Cpl. David Hink and Cpl. Mary Guyer. Stationed in high-crime areas in Dade City and Lacoochee, they are positive role models for children and help steer them away from crime and drugs.
County administrators had recommended cutting federal block grant money for one of the two officers in order to boost money for other social service groups. They argued the Sheriff's Office could cover the cost of the second officer.
But nearly 100 people from northeast Pasco flooded Tuesday's commission meeting, calling for no Officer Friendly cuts.
"I love the idea that our children get to see a more positive version of the police rather than a negative one," said Cassie Coleman, pastor of the First Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Trilby. "I would not like to see any part of this program done away with."
The proposal would have cut $56,000 in Community Development Block Grant money from the program. That money would have been used to boost the Good Samaritan health clinic's funding to earlier levels and add money for a job adviser at the Connections Job Development program.
Administrators noted that the Sheriff's Office has added nearly 50 positions over the past three years, while money for parks, libraries and social services was slashed.
"It's a tiny, tiny bit of the sheriff's budget to help fund (Officer Friendly)," said Teri Nichols, a Connections board member. "This is 35 percent of our budget."
Commissioners fashioned an agreement Tuesday that might not imperil any of the groups.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she spoke with Sheriff Chris Nocco, who agreed to split the cost of the second officer. That means the county will have to come up with $28,000.
Commissioners adopted the original block grant list — but promised to find the money for the second Officer Friendly position in a budget workshop later this month.
"I'm committing today that as we go through the budget this summer … that we fund two Officer Friendly positions," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.
Schrader said the county could use general fund money that is saved from other programs. For example, the county recently got word that a $4.2 million Medicaid bill from the state will be reduced by roughly $200,000.