The El Dorado Police Department is looking to purchase a new vehicle for its bomb squad and may soon be able to use grant money to buy new equipment for patrol cars.
El Dorado City Council members signed off on several requests that were presented July 22 by Police Chief Kenny Hickman to start the process of purchasing the new items.
The requests also opened up a conversation in which a city council member pointed to the need for the city to hire a grant writer.
Hickman asked council members for permission to sell a box truck that is used by the EPD Bomb Squad.
The truck was purchased over a decade ago, and Hickman said the police department plans to use the cash from the sale to buy a smaller, more functional truck and outfit it with the necessary equipment.
The police chief explained that the current truck was purchased in 2008 with grant money that was awarded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
"And after a term of so many years, that vehicle becomes the property of the city ... through the terms of the grant and that happened a few years ago," Hickman said.
The EPD Bomb Squad was formed shortly after the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people -- three from Arkansas -- 20 years ago.
Hickman told council members that the squad serves a multi-county region in south Arkansas and has also assisted with cases in Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
Squad members have reported experiencing difficulty in maneuvering the large box truck and equipment in some rural and remote areas where they have been called for assistance.
"Sometimes they'd go to farms or something where some old explosives were located or various other regions so they needed smaller vehicles to be able to traverse it," Hickman said.
A prospective buyer is interested on purchasing the existing truck and Hickman said that since the city owns the vehicle, the EPD needs the council's permission to sell the truck and use the money to buy another truck.
"And any monies that are left over, we would divert into the (city's) general fund," he said, adding that he will return to the council with a purchasing request before spending money on the new truck.
Responding to a question from Council Member Billy Blann, Hickman explained that the box truck differs from the bomb squad's larger response van, which is still in use.
In a two-part request, Hickman also asked for the council's authorization to apply for the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, an annual grant that is offered by the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance programs.
The BJA is criminal justice initiative that offers grants, training, technical assistance and policy development services to local, state and tribal government agencies to help make communities safe across the country.
Hickman explained that the council's authorization is a requirement of the grant application process.
City officials must also agree that any grant funds that are awarded will be split 60/40 with the Union County Sheriff's Office, per the terms of the grant.
Hickman said the EPD plans to use the grant, if awarded, to make up a cost difference in the capital improvement purchase of new equipment for patrol cars.
The expenditure was approved last year and Hickman said the EPD must submit invoices with the grant application package.
"Since then, some of the equipment for the vehicles have gone up and then, also within that, there was a new technology that came up that was kind of a little bit better than what we had planned on doing," Hickman told council members.
"So, what we want to do is, rather than it being any more on the capital improvement budget, is to use this grant to shore up that difference," he continued. "It is outfitting the vehicles and we'll be utilizing the funds that are already in the budget. There'll be no changes there."
Hickman said he will return to the council later with a request to sign off on the expenditure.
Council Member Andre Rucks said he appreciates the EPD's efforts to pursue grants and other resources to help fund equipment purchases and other such projects.
"And I think we need to follow suit ... They were just talking about that at the meeting, they were just talking about how many millions of dollars ... when it comes out, you got to go out there and be aggressive to get your portion of it before all the funds are used up," Rucks said, referring to the Arkansas Municipal League's 87th annual convention that was held virtually in June.
He encouraged the council to explore options for and tap into available grants and other potential funding sources to find funding to help "build up" the city's infrastructure and community services and development.
Rucks asked Mayor Veronica Smith-Creer if the city had a dedicated grant writer and the mayor said no.
Council Member Willie McGhee said the suggestion to hire a grant writer for the city has cropped several times over the years but the council has not acted on the matter.
"I just think it's out there. I agree with Mr. Rucks. We've had that conversation many times up here," McGhee said.
"I don't know if we need to look into a part-time grant writer or using someone that's already employed by the city and utilize that but I just think we're missing out on a lot of opportunities," he continued.