COLUMBIA — Richland County will consider spending millions of dollars in federal COVID-19 relief on new emergency vehicles and computer equipment to protect the county from cyberattacks.
The county could spend several million dollars of its federal appropriation to purchase an armored vehicle and gunshot detection software for the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, new emergency vehicles for first responders, and the cost of flights and equipment. necessary to produce new aerial maps and related software.
Of the approximately $80 million the county will receive from the American Bailout Act, about $20 million has already been committed. The county decided to use some of the money for security improvements at the Alvin S. Glenn Detention Center, heating and cooling systems for county buildings, gift cards to give out as vaccine incentives, and bonus pay for employees who they worked during the pandemic, among other costs. .
County lawmakers are now considering a batch of requests that would total another $50 million.
Those include a $35 million project to build a family service center for the South Carolina Department of Social Services on the county-owned portions of Columbia Place Mall, a project the County Council approved with federal money in 2021.
The Fifth Circuit Attorney’s Office, which prosecutes criminal cases in Richland and Kershaw counties, has requested $1.2 million for a new case management system.
And there is a list compiled by county administrators that includes emergency vehicles and computer equipment.
A three-person committee chaired by county councilwoman Gretchen Barron is considering the spending proposals, which would ultimately be approved by the full county council. Under federal guidelines, American Rescue Plan funds must be earmarked for 2024 and spent by 2026.
“Let’s see what we have an appetite for, what we don’t, and then go one step further,” Barron said during a committee meeting on April 6. “Because we’re not talking about $5 here, we’re talking about $60 million. And we want to make sure that we’re definitely doing the best that we can for the citizens of Richland County.”
Among the projects county leaders want to consider are:
- $6.3 million for 10 new ambulances, two fire trucks, defibrillators, radios, and computer equipment for emergency services.
- $4.2 million that would include replacing IT equipment and phones throughout the county, upgrading equipment to allow for remote meetings, implementing updated firewalls, servers and networks, and redesigning the county’s website.
- $2 million to the sheriff’s department for start-up costs and an initial three-year contract with ShotSpotter, a technology service already used by the Columbia Police Department that would detect unreported shootings in unincorporated areas of the county.
- $991,000 for the assessor’s office to pay for flights over the next three years to produce advanced aerial images of the property.
- $988,000 for additional sets of fire protection equipment.
- $505,000 to the county IT department for new software, aerial maps and drone equipment
- $305,000 for an armored vehicle that the sheriff’s department says could be used during active shooter situations, natural disasters and other emergencies.
- $140,000 for sheriff’s department Cessna aircraft maintenance.
Other county needs, such as major utility projects and a new emergency operations center, were not included in the requests for the COVID-19 money, County Manager Leonard Brown said.
County officials believe they can find funding for those projects elsewhere, such as taxpayer dollars that come from the infrastructure bill passed by Congress in November, Brown said.
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said the agency already has an armored vehicle from a federal military surplus program that allows officers to take cover when needed, but said the requested vehicle, a Lenco BearCat four-wheel drive four wheels and other specialized upgrades, it would be more suited to officers. ‘ needs.
As evidence of the vehicle’s effectiveness, he pointed to a 2018 shooting in Florence that killed two law enforcement officers and wounded several more after a man opened fire when police arrived to carry out a warrant. Medics were pinned down by gunfire and were unable to reach the wounded officers until an armored vehicle arrived, said Lott, whose agency investigated the shooting.
“It’s not something we would use on a daily basis,” Lott said. “But it is something that if we need it, it is better to have it available than to need it and not have it.”
Lott’s agency already has access to the City of Columbia’s ShotSpotter data, Lott said. The sheriff’s department proposal would expand the scope regionally and focus on areas of the county where shootings are known to be most common, the sheriff said.
Attain Stephen Fastenau at 803-365-3235. Follow him on Twitter @StephenFastenau.