NEW PORT RICHEY — The U.S. Department of Labor is ordering the Pasco County Sheriff's Office to pay $45,000 to cover some deputies' commuting time.
At a news conference Tuesday, Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said the Labor Department has said those patrol deputies are owed overtime pay for the minutes spent driving to their assigned patrol zones.
But Nocco said nobody has shown him where that dollar figure came from, guaranteed who gets the money, or explained why out-of-county deputies should get paid when the ones who live in Pasco should not.
Nocco wants an explanation before he signs over taxpayer dollars.
"That's all we're asking: 'Please provide us answers,' " he said.
Department of Labor spokesman Michael D'Aquino said the investigation is still open and gave no further comment.
Nocco and Sheriff's Office attorney Lindsey Moore used a whiteboard sketch to illustrate the Department of Labor's claim. They gave the following hypothetical situation:
Deputy A lives just across the county line, and instead of paying a per-mile fee to drive his or her patrol car outside Pasco County limits, Deputy A chooses to leave the car at a designated secure location in Pasco County, which carries no fee. Sheriff's Office policy names deputies' homes as secure locations, so Deputy A keeps the car at Deputy B's Pasco home, along with Deputy B's car.
Deputies A and B drive the same distance in their patrol cars from Deputy B's home to their shared patrol zone. Nocco said that under the Sheriff's Office policy, which went into effect Feb. 28, neither deputy is paid for that time driving, unless they respond to incidents during the drive. They start getting paid when they arrive at their patrol zones.
But that's where the Department of Labor investigator said the Sheriff's Office is in the wrong. Deputy A, who lives outside Pasco County, should be paid for the time of the drive from Deputy B's home where he retrieved his car to the patrol zone.
Deputy B would not get paid for that same drive.
Moore said the Sheriff's Office learned that was the issue during a May 30 meeting with the Labor Department investigator. In that meeting, the investigator indicated that the $45,223.96 would go to deputies as back pay. The Sheriff's Office said it has been told that between 55 and 67 deputies could be owed money.
A Labor Department investigator told sheriff's officials the case is the result of an employee complaint but did not give specifics, according to the Sheriff's Office. Moore said she was unaware of any employees who complained within the office.
Nocco called the audit a "witch hunt" and wanted to know why Pasco County was singled out. He thinks the take-home car policy is consistent with other counties.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office does not usually allow out-of-county deputies to take patrol cars home.
Hillsborough County and Pinellas County allow deputies to pay mileage fees to take patrol cars home across county lines. None of the other counties indicated they were under the same federal scrutiny.
So what comes next for Pasco?
Taking the case to the federal investigator's supervisor didn't help, Nocco said. He spoke to a member of Congress who didn't understand the Labor Department's logic either. "Our next step right now is hoping that someone within the federal Department of Labor will assist us," Nocco said.
Times staff writer Alex Orlando contributed to this report. Clare Lennon can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6262. Twitter: @clarelennon