Fund for Search and Rescue is Diminishing

Fund for Search and Rescue is Diminishing

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OGDEN, Utah (AP) -- A state fund to help counties pay for search and rescue missions is unable to keep up with the increased demand as more and more venture into the back country, fund officials say.

The fund was created in 1997 by the Legislature, which set aside $80,000 to establish the Search and Rescue Financial Assistance Program. It also imposed a surcharge on permits for boats and off-road vehicles and hunting and fishing licenses.

Since then, nearly $1 million has been doled out for training, equipment and searches and rescues.

"I think it's worked fantastic to this point, but the demand on it is now over the dollars available," said Cache County Sheriff Lynn Nelson, chairman of the program's advisory board, which determines where the money goes.

The fund has dwindled to $2,290.

As the demand for the fund has risen, counties have been getting back a smaller percentage of their costs, said Lt. Jeff Malan, who oversees Weber County's search-and-rescue team.

"We just bought two new snowmobiles, and (the fund) paid for maybe 30 percent," Malan said.

When the program debuted in 1998, 18 counties received financial assistance from it.

A year ago, 24 counties received funding for rescue missions and every county was given money for training, equipment or both, said Derek Jensen of the Division of Emergency Services and Homeland Security, which manages the fund for the state's Department of Public Safety.

"That illustrates what we've run into in the last little while," he said. "We have not been able to grant as many requests as we get."

When requests for money overwhelm the fund -- as has happened for two straight years -- the funding allocation board headed by Nelson uses a complex formula to decide how much to reimburse the counties.

Nelson said the board is considering other ways to pump money into the fund.

"There has been a lot of discussion about requiring people to buy insurance policies before (heading into the wilderness), like the national parks do," Nelson said. "I'm not sure that's the direction we want to go, but we're looking at a lot of options."

(Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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