The Pasco County Sheriff's Office has been approved for $4.4 million in federal stimulus funding to hire 24 new deputies for the next three years.
But, as Sheriff Bob White said at a news conference Tuesday, "there's no free lunch."
Pasco taxpayers would still be on the hook for deputies' uniforms, guns, cars and other equipment, about $1.3 million in the next three years. And to accept the money, the county must commit to funding the 24 deputies in the fourth year.
That's something that county commissioners — who are contemplating layoffs in other departments because of plummeting revenue — might be reluctant to do. Commissioner Michael Cox previously said the sheriff's application for the grant painted the county into a corner.
"Oh good, good," Cox said dryly Tuesday afternoon, upon hearing the feds approved the grant for more deputies. "We'll have to figure out how to pay for them now."
But White urged commissioners not to miss out on this chance to put another 24 sets of boots on the ground.
"What's the alternative?" White said. "We're going to give away — give back — money that's going to go somewhere else."
White cited some experts' predictions that the economy is likely to turn around in three years. He added that 24 hires for three years is a modest growth projection.
"It's very likely that Pasco County will be out of the red in that four-year period," he said. "If the only fear is the economy doesn't fully recover in four years, it will certainly have recovered enough, by all we hear from economists. If (commissioners) take that into consideration, they would be able to fund the 24 positions and be very optimistic about our future."
The sheriff's budget proposal already included eight new deputies. Now, with the federal money, he'll revise it for 24 more, which he wants to put in two more squads in west Pasco and one more in the east.
The county's decision on whether to bless the hires and accept the grant will come later in the budgeting process. Tuesday, White said, he had not spoken with county commissioners about the grant.
White had applied for funding for 60 deputies, but he said he is very satisfied with 24, which is the fourth-largest grant in Florida.
The U.S. Department of Justice received more than 7,200 applications for more than 39,000 officer positions, representing a total of $8.3 billion in requested funding.
Nationwide, the federal government issued $1 billion in grants to fund the hiring and rehiring of law enforcement officers to 1,046 law enforcement agencies from all 50 states. The state of Florida received $87 million in grants to fund 428 officers.
Isaac Arnsdorf can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6232.