Thursday, December 18, 2008

Harbor Patrol funding in new economy

A recent item in The Log Newspaper (So. Calif's major marine news source) caught my attention. It's a story about officials of Orange County thinking that it may be time for some local cities to ante up tax money to cover the costs of operating harbor patrols. The news of budget cuts by the county supervisors scared the hell out of the Sheriff's department:

Shocked representatives from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department voiced their opposition to the county’s plan to abandon harbor patrol funding, emphasizing that move could interfere with the department’s ability to secure federal grants to ensure homeland security in the county’s harbors.

Read that part again: the sheriff department is worried that a lack of county funding will mean the loss of federal funding from DHS. OH NO! we can't have that. How telling that nothing is mentioned about actually helping boaters, or saving lives, or enforcing boating laws. Nah, it's just about justifying the funding.

Lest you think I have just cherry picked one quote to overstate my point, I urge you to read the entire story.

In fact this issue isn't new. Here is an LA Times story from back in 2006 about the very same issue. The difference now is that the all the local funding agencies (state, counties, cites) are out of money, having bet their future budgets on increasing tax revenues which have now disappeared. The one agency that may still have some funds is the DHS, which explains the OC Sheriff's quote.

Note to East Coast readers: In California, Sheriff Departments are funded and operated by counties. Many of the largest harbors in SoCal are patrolled by Sheriff Departments, even though the actual harbor is owned by a city...

You see, if the OC Sheriff isn't actually patrolling those harbors, then they don't qualify for harbor security funds. The DHS doesn't care a rat's patoohty about drowning surfers and boaters with dead batteries. Oh no, they give grants for side arms and .50 CAL tripod mounts and night vision equipment.

The county tax collectors (supervisors) are out of money, and can't continue their traditional subsidizing the city harbors that are within their boundaries, so they're attempting to force the cities to pay their fair share by either sub-contracting with the county for harbor patrol service, or face the costs of creating a city owned/funded harbor department.

BUT, if either of those things happen, then the county will loose the opportunity to apply for DHS funds. Obviously, if a city starts their own harbor department, then they are the agency that would apply for DHS security funds. But even if the city like Newport Beach sub-contracts to Orange County for harbor service, wouldn't it be the city who would is the overriding authority, meaning the DHS grants go through the city coffers first?

The OC Sheriff seems to imply that if they don't get DHS money, no one will, thus leaving the harbor unprotected. What nonsense. I don't for a second think that the DHS will stop the flow of harbor security money out to whatever agencies are responsible for patrolling each harbor. The money will just go to a city, or the state, or whoever is the authority in that locale. But, gee, the OC Sheriff may not get that new armored personnel carrier now...

I've been harping on this funding issue for years, asserting that the way to reduce the competition from the MUNIs and LEOs is to attack their funding sources, rather than trying to convince them to change their operational policies. Now, it seems, may be the perfect time to remind the politicians (not the sheriffs) that a private industry remains ready to help distressed boaters, and that a few less county boats and patrol personnel does not necessarily lead to more boater tragedies.