Local News

Maintenance Costs for Sheriff's Helicopter Still Being Debated

Posted June 4, 1999

— A helicopter was a source of contention in last year's sheriff's elections. The incumbent wanted it, but the challenger did not. The incumbent won re-election, but a source of continued discussion is who will pay for the copter's maintenance cost.

The helicopter will be used for drug interdiction as well as search and rescue operations.

The federal government gave the helicopter to the Wayne County Sheriff's Department free of charge.

Parts are received through the surplus system. The OH-58 chopper is a military cast off retrofitted with free parts and labor, and some grant money.

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders calls it the future of law enforcement, but Doug Booth, who mounted an unsuccessful run for Sheriff last year, calls it unnecessary.

"Eventually someone is going to have to pay to have this chopper worked on," says Booth. "You get grant money and free gifts, but eventually that runs out sooner or later. Eventually, we'll have to pay, and it could be the taxpayers of Wayne County."

"No county tax dollars will be used for insurance or anything like that," says Winders.

Acquiring the helicopter took about two years and plenty of paperwork, but no money. Winders says taxpayers will not have to foot the maintenance bill either.

"We've got grants and drug seizure money to use," he said. "We've got it down to probably the upkeep and fuel around $15,000 a year," says Winders.

Winders came up with that number by checking with other law enforcement agencies with helicopters around the country.

The department plans to utilize the helicopter at least four to five hours each month. It will also be available to other law enforcement agencies.

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