LOUDON — The Loudon County Commission on Monday voted against additional funding for repairs and maintenance of military equipment acquired from the federal government by the county’s Office of Homeland Security.
The 5-4 vote to deny $23,000 in funding followed more than an hour of public comment by residents opposed to the budget amendment. “There is a difference between what you need and what you want,” said Wayne Schnell, a leader in the Loudon County Tea Party.
Schnell criticized the acquisitions, especially a 32-foot boat that was the primary topic of discussion, as expensive to maintain and redundant to those already operated by other local emergency agencies.
Resident Bill Fink, who said he had experience in the marine industry, including 3,000 hours operating similar boats, called the boat “overkill” for the needs of the county. Operating cost in fuel alone would be more than $100 per hour, he said. “It’s an appealing asset but it carries a lot of baggage,” he said.
Office of Homeland Security Director Daryl Smith told commissioners that all the equipment, including Humvees, trucks and the boat, were acquired after examination of the county’s possible worst case emergency needs. “Everything I’m doing is to prepare to save lives,” he said.
The boat was acquired from Defense Logistics Agency after a trip to the Marine Corps base in Cherry Point, N.C. He said he had made the trip in search of another boat but found the 32-footer, which is worth $150,000 when operating, available for the cost of transportation. The boat can serve as a work platform for the local dive squad and other agencies, he said.
Other equipment acquired from DLA includes heavy eight-wheel drive trucks and 2,500-gallon water tankers that can be used by fire departments to access and fight remote grass and brush fires, he said.
Maintenance costs are also low because his department has learned to be selective in the surplus equipment it accepts, he said. Some of the Humvees, for example, are practically new, he said.
Commissioners questioned Smith about why he acquired the equipment before asking for a maintenance and operational budget. “Why are we just finding out about this now?” asked Steve Harrelson. Smith explained that the boat was an “on the spot opportunity”
“I think it would help if you came to the budget committee in advance,” said Commissioner Don Miller, who requested the vote on the equipment be separated from another vote to amend the budget.
In the final vote, Miller, Harrelson, Bob Franke, Earlena Maples and Dave Meers voted against the budget increase. Harold Duff, Roy Bledsoe, Rosemary Quillen and Brian Jenkins voted for the funding.