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Homeland security vehicles on hold

By Fritz Mayer
June 12, 2012

Sheriff Mike Schiff would like to be able to purchase three more all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) with a grant of $40,000 from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). He needs the approval of the Sullivan County Legislature, but at a meeting on June 7, lawmakers put the matter on hold while they looked into whether or not there would be unforeseen expenses related to the acceptance of the grant.

It was unclear, for instance, if there would be space to store the vehicles, which could cost the county additional money, and Schiff said there would be some minimal amount of money needed to buy gas and tires for the vehicles.

There was also the question of whether DHS would fund equipment that would be put to more regular use. Schiff said DHS absolutely would not pay for equipment that was used on a routine basis, such as a patrol car. He said DHS would pay only for specialized equipment, such as the ATVs, that could be used in emergency situations, perhaps involving a terrorist attack. It also must be equipment that the sheriff’s office would otherwise not own.

Legislator Kathy LaBuda suggested that any additional expense for the county would be too great. She said that “the Department of Public Works has been cut by $4 million” over recent years. She asked how often the equipment would be used.
Schiff said, “All the homeland security stuff is going to be limited use. The majority of the time, it’s going to be sitting in the barn.”

Sandy Shaddock, business representative for Teamsters Local 445, said, “The fact of the matter is that, regardless of where the grant comes from, there are going to be additional costs that are going to be borne by the taxpayer. We’re in an economic crisis, where every dollar that comes through this legislature has to be scrutinized.” She said that if the vehicles were seen being used in a public place, it might not look good to the public.

Schiff said he was not concerned with that. He said, “I’m concerned with being effective. I’m concerned with not having something happen in this county. If we have a terrorist act in this county, which is entirely possibly, we need to have the tactical equipment and manpower to react to that.”

Legislator Cindy Gieger said, “With all due respect, I have confidence that you would rise to the occasion in an event like that. I’m uncomfortable knowing the equipment will be sitting most of the time.”

The legislature voted to table the request to obtain the funding until it could be determined whether storage space would be available for the vehicles in a county-owned facility.