It’s important to express appreciation when being the recipient of a gift, or in this case, a grant.
That’s the intention of this opinion, following news on Wednesday that the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office will discontinue its helicopter program.
Grants provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation sustained the operation since its inception in 2014. The helicopter made it possible for the Sheriff to deliver law enforcement and emergency services quickly throughout Cochise County, but especially to remote areas along the Arizona-New Mexico state line. Its availability allowed first responders to arrive anywhere in the county within minutes, instead of more than an hour at some locations.
The Foundation stood with Cochise County throughout the six years that the helicopter program was in operation. After a fatal crash near Benson on New Year’s Eve in 2014, the Foundation continued its support with the lease of a larger and safer aircraft, putting the Sheriff’s Office back in the sky beginning in January, 2016.
Despite the generosity of Mr. Buffett and the Foundation, Cochise County Supervisors have been cool to the helicopter program from the beginning. Board members questioned whether Buffett could be convinced to hire more deputies, instead of granting funds for an aircraft. They made clear that county — taxpayer — funds would not support the operation at anytime. They expressed near-animosity, and rarely appreciation, for Foundation grants that helped the county afford its $13 million regional dispatch center, a new state-of-the-art shooting range, new handguns for deputies and new four-wheel drive trucks for the command staff.
At every turn, Supervisors expressed skepticism, complained about potential additional costs and questioned the relationship with Buffett and the Foundation. Only after prodding and numerous grants, did board members begrudgingly write a letter of thanks for these donations.
Recognizing that relationship, it’s understandable that funds for this “free” helicopter have expired. Cochise County Supervisors want no part of any expense that provides this aerial service to residents and the Foundation, specifically Mr. Buffett, have to wonder why these donations are catechized, instead of welcomed.
Board members have consistently questioned the Sheriff’s use of the helicopter, at one point arguing that the risk of its operation outweigh the benefits. We’re confident medical professionals at area hospitals would disagree.
Supervisors are now free of the “burden” of a Sheriff’s Office helicopter and they have seriously jeopardized any future contributions by the Foundation to county law enforcement efforts.
Speaking for a community who has benefited from the services afforded by Foundation grants, a heartfelt “thank you” is in order.
The Howard G. Buffett Foundation has dramatically improved law enforcement services for the residents of Cochise County.
The helicopter program has proven itself to be a vital regional asset for the Sheriff’s Office and regardless of whether it’s paid for from the generosity of a benefactor, or from taxpayer funds, Cochise County is better served with it, than without it.