Arkansas sheriff’s marine patrol struggles with funding

MGN Image
By  | 

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) - Maintaining boats and equipment donated to the Garland County Sheriff’s Department’s marine patrol is becoming more cost prohibitive with each passing summer since the nonprofit that purchased them dissolved in early 2014, Sheriff Mike McCormick told the Garland County Quorum Court in October.

He told The Sentinel-Record that it will be difficult to keep the patrol operating past 2019 without significant capital investment from the county general fund or another revenue stream. The patrol was supported by the Lake Hamilton Safe Boating Association, receiving $281,934 in gifts and donations from 2009 to 2013, according to the 2013 report the nonprofit submitted to the IRS.

The president of the defunct organization told The Sentinel-Record in 2015 that the association purchased three boats for the patrol, including a 28-foot Baja and 24-foot Boston Whaler. It also donated two SUVs to tow the boats, eight boat engines, trailers, light bars and radios.

The nonprofit dissolved after former marine patrol deputy Neil Parliament pleaded guilty in federal court in the summer of 2013 to helping a minor travel to Hot Springs to engage in prostitution. The group’s articles of incorporation listed him as its incorporator and organizer.

“This was set up to fail from the start,” County Judge Rick Davis told McCormick in October. “It was great when you were getting all these gifts, boats with high-dollar motors in them. But no money has ever been put back into them. At some point, you’re going to have to pay the piper.

“The grants from the people who were giving the money have stopped. They’ve left you this hole you have to fill.”

Fines from tickets the patrol issues and revenue from boat registration fees the state remits to counties are the patrol’s only source of support since the nonprofit’s demise. The quorum court approved a $16,070 budget for the county’s boating safety fund in 2019, with personnel accounting for $14,395 of the budget.

The fund is projected to begin 2019 with a $21,370 cash balance.

“We have limped along for the last four years,” McCormick told justices of the peace. “The fees going into it are getting less and less. We’re hoping to be able to limp through another year. We did all kinds of repairs and switching motors to get through this season. We’re hoping to get through one more.”

Under Sheriff Jason Lawrence told the quorum court the county needs to invest in boats that are cheaper and easier to maintain than the current fleet.

“You don’t need twin outboards,” he said. “You need something simple that will get you from Point A to Point B, something in between a john boat and a larger boat. We’ll bring something back to you that will be cost feasible and will last.”

Davis said the county may need to consider District 4 Justice of the Peace Jimmy Young’s proposal for a voluntary levy similar to the one supporting the county’s spay-and-neuter voucher program. The $10 voluntary tax listed on real and personal property taxes has raised about $150,000 a year since the quorum court instituted it in 2016.

Young has proposed a voluntary tax that would support marine patrol operations.

“Maybe that’s a way to generate money,” Davis told the quorum court. “People on the lake benefit from that service. They could donate money on their taxes.”

McCormick said limited resources notwithstanding, the patrol’s one full-time and two part-time deputies have helped make the lake safer.

“We’ve had no fatalities on Lake Hamilton in three years, and it seemed like prior to that there was at least one every year,” he told the quorum court.