By Larry Kline/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Havre and Hill County may miss out on nearly $50,000 in federal grant money because of a mistake, but relief may come in the way of a deadline extension.
Havre Police Chief Mike Barthel said Thursday that last week he discovered the city and county had been awarded $49,274 through the new federal Justice Assistance Grant program, or JAG. To get the money, local law enforcement agencies must submit an application by next Thursday. However, the program stipulates that local law enforcement agencies must inform city and county governments of the grant application 30 days before submitting it.
At a meeting in City Hall on Thursday night, Barthel, Hill County Undersheriff Don Brostrom, County Commissioner Mike Anderson and Havre Mayor Bob Rice all said they had never received notice of the grant money. Barthel said the U.S. Department of Justice has since told him it sent out notices to local officials in February.
Barthel said he has asked for a waiver or an extension, which would enable the city and county to get the money, but would not know the answer until today.
Don Merritt, fiscal bureau chief for the Montana Board of Crime Control, said local officials shouldn't fret. The notification problem affected many local governments across the state and even the state government itself. Merritt said the feds have been giving waivers to alleviate the problem.
"That's a problem that was created at the federal level," Merritt said. "It happened to everybody, including the state. They are making exceptions. It's not that you won't get the money. You just have to negotiate that exception with them."
JAG is administered by both the federal government and the board, Merritt said. The Department of Justice has awarded the state $1.4 million, to be administered by the Board of Crime Control, and is also making direct awards totaling $728,000.
If Havre and Hill County get their share of the money, local officials want to use it to buy a backup generator for the city, to upgrade software and to buy new equipment for video arraignments.
Barthel said his first priority would be a backup generator that would serve the Police Department, Fire Department and City Hall. He received a preliminary estimate of $24,700 from a vendor.
Brostrom said the video arraignment system would save both the city and county money by cutting down on travel time. The system would allow the city, district and juvenile courts to hold arraignments without having to transport the suspects. Brostrom estimated the cost would be about $5,000. Several of the system's components are already in place, including a microwave link between the Hill County Courthouse and the Hill County Detention Center.
Brostrom also suggested purchasing new software for law enforcement and prosecutors in the city and county. The upgrades would cut down on work time, he said. Case information is currently entered on the law enforcement end and printed out, only to be re-entered by workers at the city or county attorneys offices. Getting everyone on the same system would cut down on duplication, Brostrom said. Information could be stored on disks and moved from office to office without having to be re-entered.
Brostrom said the upgrades could cost as much as $30,000.
City and county officials said all of the projects are worthy if the money is received.
City Council president Rick Pierson said he would like to see the city and the county work together to get it all done.
Rice said the video hookup for the court system would be "very helpful." A backup generator is also high on his list.