Three ranking members of the Calaveras and Alpine county sheriff departments were in Washington, D.C., last week to boost their chances at $13 million in federal grants for a microwave communications system the departments would share.
Joining them was Kristi More, a partner in the Ferguson Group, a lobbying firm the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Department has hired to help gain state and federal money for varying projects and upgrades.
Calaveras County Undersheriff Mike Walker, Capt. Clay Hawkins, head of the department’s Special Operations Division, and Alpine County Undersheriff Robert Levy were on Capitol Hill for four days. They met with representatives from several federal agencies — including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation — and Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Fair Oaks, whose district includes Calaveras and Alpine counties. Meetings were also held with staff members for Sens. Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein.
Making face-to-face pitches and a lobbyist’s help may be the deal-makers the rural counties need to stand out among so many agencies vying for money from a wide range of federal program sources, Hawkins said.
He noted the Ferguson Group has already helped the Calaveras law agency win grants totaling $1.2 million to build a new radio tower in the Valley Springs-Jenny Lind area and end spotty communications problems patrol deputies had in that west county region.
The much larger $13 million, if received, will cover a second phase of an ambitious overall and regional communications upgrade that ultimately would involve six Sierra foothill and mountain counties — Amador, Calaveras, Alpine, Tuolumne, Mariposa and Mono. The network would also include law enforcement officers with federal agencies, like the Forest Service, with offices in the region.
“We went so we could pitch the proposal and show the regional connectivity,” said Hawkins, who has already devoted years to improving how Calaveras County deputies, dispatchers and other law agencies communicate.
“The days of the single agency requesting funding, I think, are gone,” he added.
In the second phase, towers serving both Calaveras and Amador county deputies, would be built and enable use of a technology allowing them to access data directly via a patrol car computer rather than through a dispatcher.
“The system has been around in law enforcement for years but mostly in metropolitan areas,” Hawkins said. “In rural areas, we need more towers. ... And it’s so expensive in this terrain because we have to build high-elevation towers.”
Information on how much the Sheriff’s Department is paying the Ferguson Group was unavailable Monday. Calaveras County officials have used the lobbying group in past years to gain an edge on other grant funding.
Hawkins said lobbyist More arranged the many meetings with state representatives and federal agencies.
More, based in Ferguson’s Folsom office, said a variety of small public agencies are using lobbying firms even during the current economic slump since state and federal grants are often the only money sources possible for projects.
“Smaller local agencies have limited resources in terms of staff as well as expertise,” she said. “Having us is almost an extension of their own staff. We’re able to kind of manage the (grant) projects and direct them to the federal sources.”
Having agency representatives actually come and make personal pitches is a plus, she added.
“The congressional delegation likes to hear from constituents, and likes to hear from them in person,” More said. “There’s a different level of support when you actually spent the time to meet with Lungren, for example, on his turf.”
More predicted that Calaveras and Alpine county officials should
know by winter, at the latest, whether they indeed will receive
millions in grant funding for the communications project.