CANYON CITY - The Grant County Budget Committee has endorsed Sheriff Glenn Palmer's proposal to purchase water rescue equipment.
The sheriff said he can come up with $5,000 from his office's budget, if the county can come up with the balance. The sheriff would ap a fund holds donations for search and rescue.
The county is looking to federal Title III to cover the additional cost.
Sue Newstetter, the county's Title III coordinator, told the committee that while the newest Title III funding can't be used for this purpose, the county still has some dollars from an older allocation that can be applied to search and rescue projects. There is up to $8,000 available, she said.
The sheriff outlined costs of about $11,000 to buy ropes, throw bags, dry suits, river rescue kits and more to equip five patrol cars.
Budget committee members felt that some items may cost less than projected, but they also urged the department to budget for water rescue training.
The equipment Palmer is seeking would work for lakes and still water, as well as in swift-water situations.
To support his request, Palmer listed incidents in recent years including drowning calls to Magone Lake and Poison Creek Reservoir, a school bus that crashed and nearly landed in the water at the confluence of Rock Creek and the John Day River in 2009, and the rescue of Milton Pearlman from the John Day River in 2010.
Palmer provided dispatch log from the Pearlman rescue that showed rescue workers frantically trying to locate a boat from any agency that had one - federal, state, and well out of county - as the 90-year-old Pearlman clung to his car in the raging, frigid waters at mid-river.
After 52 minutes in the water, Pearlman was rescued by state Trooper Marv Ritter, who donned a life jacket and dove into the water with a rope and extra life vest. Both men were pulled to shore by rescue workers and bystanders. Pearlman was hospitalized but survived his ordeal.
The incident had a happy ending, but rescue workers knew it could easily have turned out otherwise.
"Emergency workers watched helplessly as an elderly man nearly drowned when we stood by because of the lack of funding for training and equipment," Palmer wrote in a memo to the budget committee.
The dispatch log impressed committee members.
"They kept calling and calling, and they couldn't get anything ... They do need something here in the county," said Rob Stewart, budget committee chairman.
Newstetter is expected to work with Palmer and take a Title III proposal to the County Court soon. A 45-day comment period would be required before the project could move forward.