The request was straightforward, even flattering. Send a few hundred Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies across the country next month to assist Washington, D.C., police at the presidential inauguration.

It's the price tag of $1.6 million -- with as much as $1 million coming from the county -- that has given some top officials indigestion.

"We're not in a position to police other cities, as worthy as this is," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Tuesday. "This is not an emergency. This is not Katrina, this is not a hurricane or a natural disaster."

Sheriff Lee Baca, in a letter dated Tuesday, asked county supervisors to approve plans to charter a plane and fly 347 deputies to Washington, where they would work for four days. A decision was postponed until next week's meeting.

At issue is who will ultimately pay for what.

Everyone agrees that Washington police would pick up the tab for $533,000 in airfare and $97,000 in per diem expenses, but that amount accounts for only a portion of the costs.

County officials estimate that they would be on the hook for another $905,000 in salary and benefits. In addition, there is $81,000 in needed "cold weather gear" including jackets, gloves, hats and "turtleneck dickies," at a cost of $232 per deputy.

Baca said Tuesday that concern about repayment is "much ado about nothing."

"The reality is the county will pay nothing for this," he said, adding that the questions raised about costs are coming as he is still in negotiations with Washington police and the inaugural committee.

Baca said that providing mutual aid was good policy, adding that earthquake-prone Los Angeles may one day need the favor returned.

Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said Tuesday that although D.C. police requested several hundred deputies, so far they have offered to reimburse the salaries of only 40.

The Sheriff's Department agreed to foot the cost of winter weather gear because it will be used again by deputies working in colder parts of the county, Whitmore said.

"What the sheriff has said is the department is willing to provide the deputies requested, but they will have to pay all of their salaries," Whitmore said. Some 64 deputies worked the 2004 Bush inaugural, with the costs reimbursed by the Washington, D.C., Metro Police Department.

Even if the entire cost of the trip is covered, Yaroslavsky and Supervisor Michael Antonovich said they would have trouble approving it.

"The sheriff's first responsibility is to the citizens of Los Angeles County, to ensure that we have adequate protection at any time of day," Antonovich said. "If they need additional personnel on the East Coast, then they need to utilize personnel on the East Coast."

Another concern -- despite assurances from the sheriff that those sent would come from "non-emergency" positions -- is whether the county would incur additional overtime costs for deputies needed to backfill for those in Washington.

"We have a fiscal crisis on our hands and an even worse one looming on the horizon. Our job is to husband our resources," Yaroslavsky said.

It was unclear Tuesday whether there were enough votes on the five-member board to permit the plan to go forward when it comes up again next week.

Supervisor Gloria Molina declined to comment on the matter through a spokeswoman. A spokesman for Supervisor Don Knabe said his boss was undecided, as was Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.