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Grants Help Calaveras Sheriff Weather Budget Woe

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A pair of large grants totaling $796,000 will help the Calaveras County Sheriff´s Department face what otherwise would have been a meager budget year.

First, a $500,000 Small and Rural County Law Enforcement Grant was re-instituted in this fiscal year´s state budget, Sheriff Dennis Downum said.

Beginning with the 2001-02 fiscal year, the grant helped augment the budgets of small sheriff´s offices, but was eliminated last year during California´s budget crisis.

It was added to this year´s budget because of efforts by Assemblyman David Cogdill and others state legislators, Downum said. “That was a big wonderful happy surprise to us,” Downum said.

His department was facing something of a bleak year as all county agencies were asked to trim about 5 percent from their budgets. The grant will give a big boost to one area in particular.

Gasoline is the largest increase faced by a department that has a lot of vehicles, and drives them many miles.

For the past three to four years Downum has budgeted about $114,000 for fuel. Last year the department spent $172,000 at the pump and this year Downum expects the cost to top off at about $206,000.

The state grant will go a long way to help cover the gap.

The department also will spend about $30,000 of the grant to cover rising food costs at the jail and another $35,000 to pay for overtime among the county´s emergency services dispatchers.

In addition to that money package, the department has won a $196,000 federal Homeland Security Grant that will be used to replace and expand its emergency services equipment.

Unlike the state grant, this money is not discretionary and the department receives a list of what items can be purchased.

One of the first items on that list that catches the sheriff´s interest is a new hazardous materials vehicle to replace the present black truck used for hazmat spills, drug lab clean-ups, and bomb disposal.

“The hazmat truck we have now is basically an old beer truck that´s been around forever,” Downum said. “We were in desperate need of a new truck.”

The county also will get a bomb disposal robot.

Equipped with a camera and mechanical arm, it can be driven by remote control up to a suspected bomb for an initial inspection and to make sure the device is not bobby trapped.

A number of hand-held, satellite radios also will be included in the items.

“It will be a lot better than our car radios because the terrain won´t affect it,” Downum said.

Some of the new radios might be installed into certain vehicles, such as those used in search-and-rescue operations.

And all of the county´s fire districts will receive thermal imagers as part of the federal grant.

Those can be used to help firefighters pin-point hot spots, even behind walls.

It could be awhile before the items actually arrive, but the grant has been approved and the equipment is on order.

Calaveras Enterprise story by Craig Koscho. For more Calaveras news, click: