Police using stimulus for items large and small

Economy » Small town cops spend to match their needs.
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Without federal stimulus money, cars here might be speeding with impunity.

With $8,500 from the Recovery Act, the Kamas Police Department purchased a "radar trailer" that displays a passing car's speed on an electronic board.

"All the citizens we've talked to have seen a great improvement of speed on the roads, of people slowing down," Kamas Police Chief Adam Jones said.

In Helper, stimulus dollars are buying police badges. La Verkin police are buying uniforms. Monticello police are buying a tranquilizer gun.

While most of about $16 million in stimulus money for Utah police is being spent in large chunks, such as $2 million for the Salt Lake City Police Department to hire new officers, 37 departments in small, often rural communities have received $10,000 grants. Those grant applications paint a grim picture for departments in towns and counties whose tax revenues have declined with the economy or due to long-term problems.

"Due to a budget shortfall and spending problem our budget was cut by approximately 40 percent this fiscal year," La Verkin police Chief Lloyd Watkins wrote at the start of his grant application.

In an interview Thursday, Watkins said the reduction has meant his officers are paying some costs out of their own pockets, such as buying their own uniforms.

"I've got one of my guys that paid for his own training," Watkins said.

La Verkin's grant includes $2,200 to replace uniforms and other small but necessary items like batons and flashlight batteries.

Many other chiefs and sheriffs and began their request with a blunt description of the situation. The Grantsville police chief talked about how the housing market downturn has hurt city revenues and his department's budget. The Emery County sheriff discussed how his county has seen a reduction in full-time jobs over 20 years and a depreciation of the county's power plants.

Emery County will use its $10,000 on four laptop computers for its police cruisers. Laptops were one of the most commonly requested items in the grant applications. Even with an $11 million county budget, that stimulus money makes a big impact, said Emery County Clerk and Auditor Brenda Tuttle.

"It means the difference between them getting [the laptops] or not," she said. "Our capital budget is pretty tight."

Guns, ammunition and Tasers were other common stimulus purchase items. But some communities also had unique needs: Monticello requested $675 for a tranquilizer gun to sedate dogs and bears.

Kamas wanted a radar trailer to reduce citizen complaints about speeders. But sales tax receipts create a large portion of revenues in the small town of Kamas at the base of the Uintah Mountains in Summit County. Those revenues are down, according to Mayor Lewis Marchant.

"The stimulus grant was just a good opportunity for additional funding for our police department," Marchant said.

Then the stimulus funds became available and Kamas was able to buy the trailer from a dealer in Illinois. On Thursday, it was sitting on at the corner of 400 South and 200 East, near three schools.

"Now [the trailer] can be here and we can be out doing other services," Jones said.

Kamas will spend another $1,500 to send Jones and the town's other police officer to Arizona to buy and train with a Taser.

ncarlisle@sltrib.com, csmart@sltrib.com