Sheriffs’ helicopter gets all-clear

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Sheriff’s Department’s new helicopter is cleared for financial liftoff. With crime-fighting equipment still to be installed, actual patrols are targeted to start in the late summer or early fall. In a string of motions during Tuesday’s session, Placer supervisors voted to award San Diego’s Hangar One Avionics a $1.73 million contract to outfit the copter with law-enforcement related equipment, authorized a memorandum of understanding with the United Auburn Indian Community to help fund the purchase, and OK’d a lease-financing agreement with the Treasurer’s Office to pay all remaining costs associated with the purchase over seven years. Total cost of the helicopter is just more than $4 million – up from what was initially projected by the sheriff’s department two years ago to be a $3.44 million expenditure. With the Board of Supervisors already committed to $2.5 million to fund the copter, the funding gap was bridged with a $1 million pledge from the Auburn tribe, which owns Thunder Valley Casino, and the anticipated proceeds from the sale of the current sheriff’s helicopter. It’s expected to fetch between $400,000 and $600,000. All four supervisors voted together in support of the different motions. Supervisor Jim Holmes had voted against the purchase because of its high price tag during a time of fiscal cutbacks but decided Tuesday to make the decision a unanimous one. Supervisor Robert Weygandt was absent from Tuesday’s meeting. “Since that was the wisdom of the board and not wishing to be thought of as an obstructionist, I’ll support the motion,” Holmes said. Holmes, who represents the Auburn area, did question plans to add equipment for a helibucket. The bucket is used for firefighting and was initially used as a selling point for the copter by a main proponent, former Supervisor Bruce Kranz. The helicopter is now being fitted for law enforcement equipment but there were no plans for it to be used in regular firefighting operations. Capt. Dave Harris, of the Sheriff’s Department, said the equipment would cost less than $1,000 and allow for potential future use of a helibucket. Treasurer Jenine Windeshausen outlined a funding plan that will see her office oversee the lease-purchase of the helicopter with certificates that are similar to debt funding through certificates of participation. Windeshausen was praised by Chairman Rocky Rockholm for providing the board with a series of funding options that cleared the way for the purchase to proceed. “We probably wouldn’t be at this point without the work you have done,” Rockholm said. Harris told the Journal after the meeting that the copter is due to be shipped to San Diego in mid-April to equip it for law enforcement use. It’s targeted to be in the air on regular patrols for the Sheriff’s Department by October, he said. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at