Short funding leaves leak in plan for new rescue boat

Published 12:04 pm Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A new search-and-rescue boat for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department will have to wait until next year, though the idea’s biggest skeptic on the Board of Supervisors is pushing for a less expensive compromise.

The deadline has passed to match a grant from the Mississippi Office of Homeland Security for a 25- to 30-foot speed boat, along the lines of what the Coast Guard uses, and because of budget constraints, Sheriff Martin Pace said he has put off applying for the grant until next year.

“As tight as we are, we trimmed everything we could trim,” Pace said. The boat “is something I think is necessary, so we are going to reapply next year.”

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On a 4-1 vote in October 2009, supervisors agreed in principle to match the $204,375 grant with $51,093 from the county budget. However, only a request for 10 new patrol vehicles survived the budget process for 2010-11, one that cut the department’s overall budget from a year ago.

The boat, for which grant money was awarded to the state’s Department of Marine Resources, would join the 19-foot boat the department already uses for emergency response and patrol on the Mississippi River and inland lakes. Pace has said the boat is more of a survey boat than a true rescue vessel. A truck, trailer and storage space would have to be secured and funded separate from the grant.

District 4 Supervisor Bill Lauderdale, who voted against the match, proposed before the vote and reiterated recently that the county could purchase a smaller vessel for less money.

“I’d like to see them have a boat, just not a $200,000 one,” Lauderdale said Monday, adding he’s been quoted privately a $30,000 price on a smaller, 24-footer with less oomph than the 450-horsepower produced by the grant-funded boat’s twin outboard engines.

Mississippi’s public purchasing laws mandate that a local governing body have at least two quotes when items or projects fall between $5,000 and $50,000.

In the past, commercial boats in Ergon’s fleet and others already in the river have responded to emergencies on the Mississippi River. The Coast Guard’s Safety Detachment Unit at the Port of Vicksburg is tasked as a maintenance unit only.