Supervisors vote for boat for rescues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A federal grant for a boat and other emergency response equipment will be sought by Warren County supervisors, who overcame their initial reluctance and voted 4-1 Monday to try to find the $51,093.75 needed to match the $204,375 allocation offered by Mississippi Office of Department of Homeland Security.

“It’s hard not to take advantage of an opportunity to advance your position in public safety,” said District 5 Supervisor Richard George, board president, before casting a yes vote on the matter. “Opportunity, especially in difficult times, doesn’t come too often.”

The board’s about-face on the grant followed a week of talks with the Sheriff’s Department and consultation with officials who offered the money in September to Warren County and, separately, for the state’s Gulf Coast-centered Department of Marine Resources.

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Supervisors had based their reluctance on there being no mention of the grant in the sheriff’s department budget requests this summer. Sheriff Martin Pace said the original grant application was completed by the state, then the state considered storage of maritime equipment for state use.

“Essentially, the state received the grant and pushed it out to two agencies,” Pace said.

Specifications on the boat are vastly larger and more expensive than any ever based here for search and rescue. They call for a 25- to 30-foot boat with twin outboard engines with up to 450 horsepower, similar to those used by the U.S. Coast Guard in port security and various maritime response units. Pace and Undersheriff Jeff Riggs, who handles specifics for most grants for which the department applies, assured the board the bid specs could be adjusted further to cut costs, but still must pass muster with the state agency to get the grant. The department will also need a truck, trailer and storage location for the boat.

“From a safety standpoint, it’s going to have to be something safe, something that will be all-weather, or you’ve defeated the purpose,” Pace cautioned.

District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale cast the lone nay vote, noting uncertainties in the county’s tax revenue that led to 10 percent cuts in this year’s budget for most county departments, including the sheriff’s department.

“You’re looking at close to $70,000 out-of-pocket (money) for a Gulf-type boat,” District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale said, adding private boat makers could likely beat the government price. “It’s an awful lot of money to put on a boat.”

But when funding sources were mentioned for the match, Lauderdale mentioned a list of 101 delinquent personal property tax accounts for which the sheriff’s department will be used to enforce payments. The list totaled $188,154.55. Delinquent taxes on 822 mobile homes appeared on a separate list and equaled $96,425.96.

“There’s probably enough money in there to match the grant,” Lauderdale said.

Pace said a trailer and a three-quarter-ton pickup to haul the boat are not provided in the grant. Two sites have been scouted for storage, he said. The boat would be paired with the 19-foot boat the department already uses for emergency response and patrol on the Mississippi River and inland lakes, Pace said, and there would be no immediate addition of personnel.

The department responded to five watercraft distress calls in 2009 and 12 in 2008, Pace said. The boat in service was purchased from the Corps of Engineers and is more of a “survey boat” than a true rescue vessel, Pace said, adding the Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment on the Port of Vicksburg is only a maintenance unit and isn’t tasked to respond to incidents on the river.

“They paint buoys,” Pace told supervisors. “Their mission here is not search and rescue.”

The Vicksburg Fire Department maintains a water rescue unit. Other patrol and response is by the state Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks. River emergencies, such as tow breakups and reports of people falling overboard, usually draw their first response from commercial boats, including those in the Ergon fleet, already in the river.

The Office of Homeland Security oversees nearly $100 million in grants to multiple cities and counties in the state for building operations centers and buying equipment, among other uses, according to releases from the office. Most grants do not require local matches and efforts continue to remove the requirements from all security-related grants, officials have said.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at