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Was $4 million copter a smart buy for Placer County?

Our View
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The Placer County Sheriff’s Department recently spent $4 million on a fancy helicopter. Was that money well spent? It depends on your point of view. Jim Holmes was the only Placer County supervisor who objected to Sheriff Ed Bonner’s request for a state-of-the-art chopper. In post-9/11 America, supporting firefighters and law enforcement goes right along with apple pie, mom and the flag. And Sheriff Bonner is a nice guy who has done a good job for a long time. But on the other hand, it seems like odd timing to make such an expensive purchase. Placer County is facing an economic recession that has caused a wage freeze. The county has demanded furloughs, is considering layoffs and is facing a decline in revenues tied to property taxes and more. It would be more prudent to tighten the belt now, rather than buy new expensive toys. The cost of the “Eurocopter” has increased dramatically from the original $3.44 million estimate. And that does not include future maintenance costs. Placer County is home to high elevations and extremely rugged terrain. The new Eurocopter will enable officers to fly over the summit to Lake Tahoe, something their current helicopter apparently cannot do adequately. It will also enable Placer County deputies to rescue stranded and distressed hikers, skiers and other misguided outdoor enthusiasts who find themselves in life-or-death situations. If it is your loved one whose life is saved by the new helicopter, $4 million might sound like a bargain. But that is a tiny minority of people who would benefit. And there are plenty of other helicopters around that could provide mutual aid. There are California Highway Patrol, CALSTAR, Cal Fire, El Dorado and Placer County sheriffs’ helicopters flying local skies right now. The Journal recently reported on a California Highway Patrol helicopter rescuing a dog in nearby El Dorado County. The dog was stuck near Ruck-A-Chucky rapids on the Middle Fork of the American River. What’s next? Using taxpayer-funded helicopters for gerbil and guinea pig rescues? And this while we insist government workers take furloughs? Along with enhancing search-and-rescue capabilities, the new helicopter will no doubt search for pot growers. Helicopters are more maneuverable than fixed-wing planes and might find more illegal marijuana. And former Supervisor Bruce Kranz once argued that the new helicopter could be used for emergency fire suppression. Perhaps it will one day save us all from a horrific fate. Placer County taxpayers have proven again and again at the polls that they want expenditures scrutinized. County supervisors’ tight-fisted constituents have kept supervisors’ own salaries at $30,000 a year. Yes, the United Auburn Indian Community donated a significant sum of money toward the helicopter purchase. Thank you for the gift. But supervisors need to question every major expenditure, especially during these tough economic times. The purchase of a $4 million helicopter comes at an odd time, to say the least.