BISBEE — Due to the end of funding from a $1.5 million grant provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office will no longer have an eye in the sky, at least for the time being.

For now, the CCSO’s helicopter program has come to end while Sheriff Mark Dannels tries to find new sources of funding to put a less expensive and more efficient model back in service.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the County Board of Supervisors approved an item on the consent agenda to close out the $8,870 April expenses of the helicopter program.

According to Dannels, his office received enough funding to cover expenses through April, even though the original agreement with the foundation had been through March 2021.

“Based on the gentlemen’s agreement, Arizona Air Support secured the pilots and pilot living quarters for April 2020, with the anticipation of a contract renewal. Shortly thereafter, due to the coronavirus and unsettling world markets, the Foundation made a decision not to fund the CCSO helicopter program for the coming year, but looked at a downsized helicopter program in the future,” Dannels explained to the Herald/Review.

“We need a helicopter that will be more affordable,” he added. “We’re looking at federal and state grants that may provide us with around 90 percent of the annual cost.”

In the meantime, the county will have do without the bird’s eye view, which has proved to be extremely helpful in rescue missions, wildfire events and surveillance for law enforcement situations, Dannels added.

“It will definitely hamper our efforts in rescues. We have used the helicopter in over 60 rescues. It’s a valuable asset, especially for this rural county.”

He added, “CCSO has a small donation account that was funded by the foundation for the helicopter, so we’ll use those funds to close out the helicopter program with Arizona Air Support.”

Since the item was on the consent agenda, Supervisors Tom Borer, Ann English and Peggy Judd did not discuss the matter.

Comprehensive plan amendmentThe supervisors unanimously accepted the recommendation of the county Planning and Zoning Commission and approved changing the growth category and land use of 20 parcels totaling 1,972 acres of land on Highway 191.

The land involved stretches from near the city limits of Douglas north to the Bisbee Douglas International Airport, a corridor the county sees as a possible economic growth area, particularly since a new commercial port of entry is planned just west of Douglas on the border, explained Christine MacLachlan, county planner II.

The county planning department decided it would be more efficient to make the land use change for the parcels all at once to attract possible industrial uses to the area.

MacLachlan said, “The subject parcels would change from Rural (R) to Developing (DEV) and the land use growth area category from D to C. The area directly surrounding the site is primarily agricultural rural and sparsely developed to the east and west.”

English wanted to be sure residents within the area would be notified if any rezonings were to be heard by the planning and zoning commission and the supervisors.

“I want people to be notified of changes in their area and I want it in writing,” she said. “We want to listen to people who object to new land uses.”

She went on to say people in rural communities recognized that changes in those communities can have a bigger impact than changes in an urban setting.

Judd agreed and said she was concerned with the agricultural heritage of the land in the Highway 191 corridor being altered.

Borer saw the positive side of the change and said, “This gets the framework set for the eastern part of the county. It allows for growth and expansion.”

Road repairs, public transportThe supervisors also approved two requests made by Judd to help her jurisdiction with her share of community enhancement funds.

One concerned a sinkhole and road repair in Bowie to help the Bowie Water Co. finish a project in the amount of $2,819. Concrete work in the area around the railroad tracks required more concrete than anticipated and the company needed help to make up the difference for the project.

Judd also sought approval for a new transportation service in the northeastern section of the county to provide public transport between Bowie, San Simon, Willcox, Sunsites, Pearce, Bonita and Elfrida.

She requested $13,158 to use as match money toward the grant funded purchase of a nine passenger, wheelchair accessible van. Funding was arranged through Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization. The vehicle will be procured by Arizona Department of Transportation.

Several government agencies collaborated on the project and the county will have no ongoing obligation to fund any aspect of the program.

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