DADE CITY — Sheriff Bob White showed up at the Pasco County Commission meeting Tuesday with big news: He hopes to get as much as $11-million in federal stimulus money to put 60 new deputies on the streets over the next three years.
But the federal grant would put the cash-strapped county on the hook for lots of money, too, so commissioners suggested he also try another tack: Telling federal officials that he expects to lay off deputies because of budget cuts — and needs the grant money to rehire them.
Commissioners directed White to go ahead and apply for the Department of Justice grant, which would be in the county's name. They asked him to check first if he could apply under a provision for money to replace lost jobs.
White would need to see if a letter from county administrators asking him to prepare three budgets — one with a 10 percent cut, the others with 15 and 20 percent cuts — is enough evidence.
White and other sheriff's officials said they were certain the answer would be no, in part because the grant requires the dates of scheduled layoffs and the number of positions. The Sheriff's Office says it has not come up with such figures.
"I don't want to jeopardize my other grants by not being transparent on this one," said White.
County commissioners two weeks ago said that White and other constitutional officers would need to come up with the reduced budgets, but the sheriff's office did not receive a letter requesting the new projections until Tuesday morning. White said he'd heard that the reductions were discussed but that the letter was his first notice.
If federal officials tell the county that the grant needs to be for new officers, White will apply for new hires. The application is due April 14.
Top county administrators made clear that they didn't relish the prospect of winning the grant to hire new deputies, particularly at a time when the county is dealing with a nearly $30-million revenue shortfall.
"Be ever mindful, though, this is a balloon payment," said County Administrator John Gallagher. "You're never going to get anything for nothing."
The grant requires that the county commit to paying all the hired deputies for at least another year after the funds run out.
And during the three years, the $11-million would pay only for the base salaries and benefits of the new 60 deputies.
If the full amount for 60 deputies is approved, the county would have to pick up a one-time tab of roughly $236,000 to equip the officers with such necessities as Tasers and uniforms, according to White.
There would also be annual costs, including vehicle maintenance, of $488,000 associated with the new deputies. The sheriff proposes using $1.6-million in Penny for Pasco money to pay for start-up costs, including cars, radios and laptops.
White said that if the county does get a grant award, it has the power to accept less because of budget restraints.
Commissioner Pat Mulieri said she wanted to give it a shot.
"I'd hope in the next four years we could afford 20," deputies she said.
White said he based the 60 deputy figure on a 2005 law enforcement master plan put together by a county consultant. County commissioners in January voted to make changes to that master plan because some of the figures had become outdated.
White said he did not learn that until Tuesday.
He said in an interview that Pasco would likely not get all 60 deputies.
"I may wind up with five, or two deputies because everyone and their brother is asking for this money," he said. "It's incongruous that I would not request it. Why should it not come to Pasco?"
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6247.