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Against the advice of their attorney, Plumas County supervisors authorized $75,000 to purchase a new vehicle for Search and Rescue, replacing a damaged 1985 vehicle that is described as being unsafe to use.
The money would come from Secure Rural Schools Act Title III funding.
“I can’t point to case law, but it falls within a range of expenditures that could expose the county to an audit,” County Counsel Craig Settlemire told the supervisors Nov. 13.
He said that the general accounting office had criticized the U.S. Forest Service for its lack of oversight of Title III expenditures, particularly those involving capital equipment purchases.
“There is substantial risk,” Settlemire said, adding that the county might have to reimburse the money at a later date and then there was the matter of who would be responsible for the request.
“Who’s going to sign the certification, taking on the personal responsibility?” Settlemire asked. “I would decline to sign it.”
Supervisor Jon Kennedy said he researched the subject and couldn’t find any firm rules about such expenditures.
He said what he found is that the Forest Service “has been scrutinized for not scrutinizing more.”
Kennedy said that the GAO is advocating for a better set of rules and he recommended proceeding with the purchase.
“Now’s the time to do it,” he said, before new rules go into effect.
“I say go for it,” Supervisor Lori Simpson agreed.
Title III funding provides for Search and Rescue expenditures.
“We can statistically demonstrate that the vehicles are used almost exclusively on Forest Service property,” Sheriff Greg Hagwood said. “I am confident that it would pass any measure of scrutiny.”
Supervisor Sherrie Thrall asked Hagwood what would happen if the aging vehicle weren’t replaced.
“There would be a measurable impact,” Hagwood said, noting that the money has been used for this purpose before. “We’ve gone from things literally falling apart to proper, safe equipment.”
The supervisors approved the purchase and designated Board Chairman Robert Meacher to sign the certification.
The sheriff’s department will put the new vehicle out to bid.
“We will try to do it local,” Hagwood said.
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