When Citrus County Sheriff’s Col. Elena Vitt asked County Commissioners in May to support a federal grant application to hire 44 deputies, the attitude in the room was almost self-defeating.
Vitt and Commissioners agreed that the likelihood of getting the full request was slim. And it made Commissioners nervous since it potentially committed the county millions of dollars in salaries that it had not budgeted for.
Everyone agreed the deputies were needed, but there was no talk about how the county would hold up its end to match.
Now the talk is necessary after the Department of Justice this week awarded Citrus County a $5.37 million grant designed to cover a third of the cost of hiring 44 deputies.
The grant cycle is five years, but the financial award is only for three years. That means the county will fully cover years four and five.
The county’s end is $14.5 million over the first three years, and an unknown amount to cover the grant’s final two years.
Commissioners in May said there was no “downside” to requesting the full amount because even getting the grant doesn’t hold the county accountable to spend it.
Still, they appeared confused with the details. Plus, the Sheriff’s request was added to the agenda at the last minute and the deadline to apply was that same day.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said Sheriff Mike Prendergast has made clear his need for additional road patrol officers and the grant would help fill that need.
“This is not something we should be chewing on,” he said, according to a video of the meeting. “It’s on this board to find the money.”
Chairman Ruthie Davis Schlabach said she was “nervous” about applying for a grant that if successful could cost the county millions of dollars it hadn’t planned to spend.
Vitt, however, sought to calm her nerves by saying receiving the full grant is “the worst-case scenario.”
The meeting minutes reflect the uncertainty of funding: “If the grant is approved, then the board will find the money.”
The grant took effect Oct. 1.