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The Hall County Sheriff's Office has 16 new patrol cars on the streets, and taxpayers didn't pay a dime.
Through a partnership with the Drug Enforcement Agency, the sheriff's office purchased the cars with money seized from local drug deals.
"We were fortunate this year that one of our investigators who partnered with the DEA was on a number of large-scale busts, and we were able to share in that asset forfeiture," Col. Jeff Strickland said. "As we prepared for the FY 2011 budget, those funds began to come in, and we decided to use them to purchase the vehicles."
Starting in fiscal year 2009, the county implemented a number of cost-saving maneuvers, including a freeze on all capital purchases. In the spring, county officials asked all departments to maintain last year's budget for fiscal 2011 as well, which began July 1.
But the sheriff's office was in desperate need of new vehicles, Strickland said.
"The county commissioners made the decision to not allow any capital purchases, and patrol cars fall into that," he said. "In the past, we always replaced 20 to 25 cars every year to keep the fleet safe and operational. It was hard to go two years without replacing any vehicles."
To stay within budget, Strickland said the sheriff's office had to get creative.
"We've worked very hard to find alternative methods to fund things we need in these tough economic times," Strickland said.
Officers have placed a sticker with "This vehicle funded by seized drug funds" on the back of each car. The new fleet cost $422,000.
"When citizens see that sticker, they'll know it was at no cost to the taxpayer," Strickland said. "We have used those funds on other issues. One time we were able to match a grant to replace our 20-year-old dive truck, and another time we were able to purchase a new command truck by using those funds with a grant."
Once drug money is seized, it goes through the federal court system. After cleared by the courts, the money is divvied up based on each agent's involvement in the case.
The sheriff's office receives a small percentage of each bust.
"Having an investigator assigned to the DEA really opens up communication between the Atlanta DEA and our multi-agency narcotics unit, which helps with the intelligence and drug information about what may be coming into the county," Strickland said. "At the same time, it allows us to stop the drugs coming into the county before they get here."