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County approves MOU with SAFE to fund Sheriff's helicopter operations

Under a Memorandum of Understanding approved September 22 by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, the San Diego Service Authority for Freeway Emergencies (SAFE) program will reimburse the county up to $375,000 per year over the next five fiscal years for the cost of Sheriff’s Department helicopters used for motorist rescue.

The money would partially cover operation, maintenance, and fuel costs for the county’s Bell 205A1 medium-lift fire and rescue helicopters. All five county supervisors voted in favor of the agreement.

“This is an extremely important program,” said Supervisor Ron Roberts. “It makes it possible to continue to operate equipment for fire as well as for rescue.”

The SAFE program collects a $1 surcharge on motor vehicle registrations within San Diego County.

At one time the fees were used for the installation of call boxes on freeways and state highways, but the completion of the installation allows the SAFE funding to be used for other motorist-related purposes (including maintenance of the call boxes).

The Sheriff’s Department operates the County Regional Helicopter Program, which provides rescue services as well as firefighting capability.

A previous five-year Memorandum of Understanding covered the period from July 1, 2005, through July 30, 2009, and enabled the reimbursement of up to $250,000 annually for the operational costs of the county’s helicopter program.

Fuel costs have since tripled, and the SAFE board approved an increase in the funding to $375,000 annually for the period from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2014.

“That’s so important to this region to make sure we have aerial aircraft support,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob.

The reimbursement does not fully offset all costs related to the County Regional Helicopter Program.

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