PORTSMOUTH — One piece of legislation will be making its way back to first reading on May 10, just four months after Portsmouth City Council failed to pass it.
With grant funding being the issue last time, City Manager Sam Sutherland said on Monday that he and the Portsmouth Police Department sorted through city finances and came out with a potential solution.
“It was discussed heavily that council would like to see some grant funds applied to this,” he said at the first meeting allowing public in-person attendance in over a year. “We did some digging into the finances and found approximately $81,000.”
To fund the Lenco Medcat, priced originally at $265,000 and possibly now at $255,000, Sutherland said in a letter that available funds have been discovered in three separate fund balances which would cover nearly a third of the armored vehicle’s cost.
As followed, the city manager and PPD found $52,533 in Fund 213, $14,805 in Fund 228, and $13,342 in Fund 229 for a grand total of $79,000 in “leftover grant money.”
This money has already been appropriated, but a remaining $1,680 is needed in additional appropriations spread among these funds. Sutherland suggested the additional $180,000 would come in four equal payments over the next four years using impound lot revenue.
The effort put-in to finding the funds for the Medcat brought up more questions than answers in his mind, seeing the urgency for the vehicle to far outweigh what has been placed into code enforcement.
“We have a crisis in code enforcement,” he said, repeating what he said in his ward report earlier that night. “We tried for years to make certain changes and we’re going in opposition to those changes.”
The set of four, $45,000 investments could also be replaced by allotments from the Capital Improvements Budget program. PPD is receiving $389,000 from that budget, $304,000 of which is going to the purchase of six, marked vehicles.
Dunne said his primary reason for his December opposition was that he thought the search for grant money had been insufficient. That still remains the case in April for him, but now other reasons have emerged.
“If we’re thinking about this proposal as a way of improving general safety in our city, which is obviously a goal I think that we would all want, why aren’t we spending that money on roads?,” he said, defining his vote as a “protest vote” as progress has been too slow with code enforcement. “Statistically, we are all more likely to die in a car accident than in some sort of mass shooting event.”
Mayor Kevin Johnson, on the other hand, would be supporting the purchase as he did previously. He agrees with Dunne in terms of code enforcement failures, but also comes to the table with a wife as a teacher and multiple children in local schools.
“I would sure like the peace of mind that we have this option should it be called upon,” he said.
Police Chief Debra Brewer was not in attendance on Monday, but did submit an earlier letter to council when the Medcat first made its way to council in November 2020.
“The worst thing we can do as city leaders is wait until a criterial incident happens which costs a first responder or a citizen their life before we take the necessary actions,” reads the letter from Brewer and Fire Chief Bill Rasion, adding that both departments will use it regularly and do maintenance checks.
2nd Ward Councilwoman Charlotte Gordon added incidents like these can happen anywhere and that preparations need to take place. Vehicles like the Lenco Medcat could save lives and decrease panic if such an attack happened in Portsmouth in her view.
“My feeling is that I hope I never have to call an ambulance, but if I were to have to call an ambulance for someone in my household, I’m really glad we have an ambulance,” she said, also among the three votes in favor in the Dec. 14 vote. “Part of what we have to weigh as a council is both the monetary value and intrinsic value. I see the importance of both… but if we were to need this; we need it.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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