UKIAH 1/25/2017 — The consent calendar on the agenda for the board of supervisors meetings is usually considered non-controversial. But one item on the consent calendar for Tuesday’s meeting resulted in unusually heated debate, when the board refused to allow Sheriff Tom Allman to purchase a used snow tractor and a trailer from a dealer in Idaho, for his department.
The sheriff’s office had requested that the board allow him to use $45,000 from off-highway license fees, forest service funds, and asset forfeiture funds for the equipment, which he planned to use in search and rescue operations. However, the infrequent use of such machinery, plus concerns about depleting asset forfeiture funds on one-time expenditures, led the board to table the item for the time being.
Earlier this month, three sheriff’s deputies were stranded in the snow when a borrowed snowcat broke down on the way to rescue a trio of motorists who were stranded in the Mendocino National Forest. The motorists were unhurt, and the machine eventually started up again, but Allman asserted that “Mendocino County’s equipment does not break down.”
Second District Supervisor John McCowen reminded Allman of the snowmobiles that local businessman Ross Liberty donated to the sheriff’s department, but Allman said that those sink in the snow. To McCowen’s question about how often such equipment would be used, Allman replied, “When I have three employees stuck in the snow, once every ten years would be enough.” He also stated that he had learned that PG&E has one snowcat for Northern California, the Humboldt county sheriff’s department has a broken snowcat, and that AT&T’s snowcat is not available.
Fourth District Supervisor Dan Gjerde said that, “The concern of this particular expenditure has been the increasing number of requests coming in from you in the last few months to spend down the asset forfeiture fund, and the problem that that could potentially pose if the asset forfeiture fund is actually spent down and then not available...to pay for things like overtime.” Allman countered by asking what else the board had approved that he could spend asset forfeiture funds on.
“Well, you’ve come in requesting to buy a building from Savings Bank,” Gjerde replied.
“That was in closed session. I didn’t know we could talk about that in open session, Supervisor,” Allman responded. “So, since you brought it up, yes. I brought in the money to purchase a substation in Ukiah to get my deputies off Low Gap Road since school is here, to get them closer to the new courthouse, to get them closer to the freeway so they can respond quicker to Anderson Valley, Redwood Valley, Potter Valley, Hopland, and get them closer to where our homeless population is causing problems for our citizens...but as you know, the board, when you were chair, said no on that expenditure.”
Fifth District Supervisor Dan Hamburg joined the discussion, saying, “If I could just get back to the snow cat…” He said he had spoken to the retired head of the sheriff’s search and rescue department, who had told him search and rescue had found itself in need of a snowcat twice in 15 years.
“Once every seven years works for me,” Allman retorted.
“Well, it wouldn’t work for me,” Hamburg answered. “That’s $22,000 a use over 15 years,” he calculated, adding that “I’m not sure you can’t run your department without a snowcat.”
McCowen rejoined the conversation, telling the sheriff that he made “compelling points in favor of the item...if it’s that vitally needed, it seems to me we shouldn’t be doing this on the fly...it should be part of the normal budget process.”
Allman protested that, “The discussion we’re having right now would be the exact discussion we’d have during budget time...you had three of your employees stranded in the snow...I would ask the board, at least three of you, to support the employees of the sheriff’s office and search and rescue and the citizens of this county who get stuck in the snow.”
Gjerde moved that the item be brought back at budget time for consideration along with the rest of the sheriff’s budget. Hamburg seconded the motion, which passed with First District Supervisor Carre Brown dissenting.
Allman upbraided the board for its decision, saying, “I certainly am disappointed in the lack of leadership of this county...I hope none of your family members are stuck in the snow. But if they are, the sheriff’s office will do everything we can to safely rescue them.”
McCowen disagreed with the characterization of the item, saying “There are many critical needs in the county, and it’s our responsibility to attempt to balance the available resources with the needs.”
Sarah Reith, [email protected]