County Revisits Surplus Issue

Jeremy Styron-News Herald

Two weeks after voting down a motion to pay for maintenance and repairs on a 32-foot boat and other equipment the county obtained this summer through military surplus, Loudon County Commission reconsidered its decision as teh sheriff, two police chiefs and other emergency response personnel attended the workshop to voice support.

In addition to the boat, seven Humvees and other vehicles were transferred to the Loudon County Homeland Security and Emergency Management Office within the last three months, with the only costs to the county coming in repairs, maintenance and fuel.

"A lot of you I think it's been said that, "Well, why do you need such equipment. Why do you need that? Why do you need this?" Sheriff Tim Guider said. "Well, hopefully we'll never need it."

Guider, who said more than 300 law enforcement agencies in the state were participating in the federal government surplus equipment program, told commission some locations in the county were not reachable by standard police vehicles.

"This year alone we have had two recoveries and searches for individuals in rough terrain that normally our normal vehicles can't driven in," Guider said. "Our new patrol cars, we don't want to get them out there and bang them up."

"In the past inclement weather we used the four-wheel-drive vehicles that we have had through the surplus program in the past," he added. "This is what we'll be using the vehicles for, inclement weather, events that's not normal."

In the Oct. 7 split vote, commissioners David Meers, Don Miller, Steve Harrelson, Bob Franke and Earlena Maples voted against a budget amendment providing $17,000 for the repairs and supplies for the equipment, while commissioners Brian Jenkins, Rosemary Quillen, Harold Duff and Roy Bledsoe voted in favor. An additional $6,000 in fuel funding did not pass in the budget committee.

During the previous meeting, Miller said one concern was that the equipment was brought to the county without commission's knowledge, and the county should have been informed about the plan beforehand.

Another concern, raised by Tellico Village resident Jim Brennan, was that the military equipment might be used to stamp down dissent against the federal government, which Guider dismissed.

"There has been some indication that this equipment in relationship with this particular program might be thought of as the federal government coming in and trying to take possession of our firearms and dampen and weaken our second amendment rights, but all I can say is that is ludicrous," Guider said. "It's speculation. It's only theorizations...I can't imagine that even being thought of."

Lenoir City Fire Chief Richard Martin said while Loudon County was "blessed" with plenty of water and lakefront property, a time will come when residents need emergency personnel.

"We have to protect, and sometimes that's hard to do, but you know what? If you're in a car wreck out here, and all I've got is a pocket knife, I'm going to start cutting you out," Martin said." And when the alarm sounds--and they're going to sound--these people in this room will be there."

Quillen requested the surplus equipment be put back on the next commission meeting agenda.

"I hope this stuff sits out there and rots to the ground, but if it hits my country, I want my county residents protected," Mayor Estelle Herron said. "And I made the statement (previously), and I'll make it here again. It's like the federal government sending our boys into Iraq without any shoes on our feet. That's what we're doing with this group of boys right back here."

Guider said the plan was to position the equipment in "strategic locations" throughout the county in case of an emergency. The equipment is current being housed at the Loudon County 911 center.

"That way if there was a catastrophe in one part of the county, we won't be hemmed up in one location," Guider said. "It's a win-win, and I just would certainly like for y'all to vote unanimously in regard to this, and let's all embrace it together."

Herron said if the military equipment saves one person's life, acquiring the vehicles would be worth it. She said no money was spent in getting the equipment to Loudon county and admonished commission members to "vote your conscious."

"I'm not asking you either way," she said. "I'm just going to ask you to pray about your decision, and you vote accordingly, and if you vote, "No," you'll never hear another word from me because that's between you and your conscious and not me and mine."