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State fees keep public safety officials from using free equipment



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SALT LAKE CITY -- A local police department is calling on the state to change policy on a program that's supposed to be free. It allows for public safety agencies to get free, used equipment, but here in Utah a fee is discouraging police from using the service.

"Bottom line is the equipment and the tools should be made available to local agencies during these times," said Saratoga Springs police Cpl. Aaron Rosen.

These times Rosen is talking about include budget cuts that make getting additional tools extremely difficult.

The Defense Reutilization and Marketing Services offers a program created to give old military equipment to local public safety agencies for free--things like emergency and tactical gear, electronics and boxes of boots and clothes. Locally, that equipment is loaned out from Hill Air Force Base.

On the DRMS website it says thousands of military units contributed over 3.5 million items to the program last year, resulting in $2.2 billion worth of re-utilized property. But last year, Utah agencies saw none of that property.

"The last time they saw anyone come through was, quote: ‘A couple to a few years ago,'" Rosen said.

He says the program is seldom used because Utah's surplus department charges a surplus fee of 3 to 20 percent on the value of the equipment, making it challenging for any agency to take advantage of this so-called "free" program.

The Saratoga Springs Police Department says it would like to use more of the surplus equipment, but it learned it can't afford what the state charges them after it checked out four defibrillators.

"It's very cost prohibitive. For the small items that we have, they tacked on a 3 percent surcharge, which amounted to about $8,000," Rosen said.

The state has told these agencies the fee is necessary in order to fund the program; it's mandated by policy and called "standard practice."

Meanwhile, Rosen says surrounding states that don't have to pay the fee have figured it out.

"Arizona, Nevada, California, Oregon and other places who come in routinely, by the truckload, load up this stuff and take it back to their own state," he said.

Saratoga Springs Police Chief Gary Hicken calls the fees unreasonable, as they create a barrier for public safety agencies trying to access this valuable resource system.

"Any and every agency in Utah--fire, police, medical responders, search and rescue teams--all should be able to have the ability to utilize this equipment," Rosen said.

The state of Utah says Saratoga Springs' side of the story isn't the entire story. Margaret Chambers, director of fleet and surplus properties, says the city's actual bill was closer to $6,500 than $8,000. She also says there's a good reason why Utah is charging for surplus equipment when some other states aren't.

"There are charges that-- costs that are associated with this program," Chambers explained. "So some states have that appropriated as part of the operation of that. But in Utah, it's an internal service fund, and so we have to recover our costs to run this program from fees."

Chambers points out it would be a lot more expensive for the departments to purchase the same equipment new.

"The $6,500, you multiply that by the 97 percent. That's what it would cost to get that equipment new," Chambers said.

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Story compiled with contributions from Randall Jeppesen and Nicole Gonzales.

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