$800,000-plus was over the top

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department's aggressive pursuit of major marijuana growing operations makes sense. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners' decision to give the sheriff more than $800,000 to buy high-tech equipment does not.

Sheriff Mike Winters has made a name for himself in leading efforts to track down and uproot marijuana plants allegedly connected to "Mexican cartels." There's not been a lot of proof presented to back up the cartel claim, but anybody growing marijuana plantations containing thousands or tens of thousands of plants is into a dangerous business. Winters is right to pursue those growers vigorously.

The county commissioners, however, seem blinded by the sheriff's focus on the marijuana menace and blind to the many, many pressing needs of other county departments. On Wednesday, they went over the top, tapping county reserves for $810,726 for equipment for the Sheriff's Department. That sum includes $529,000 for infrared scanners that will be used in helicopters to seek out marijuana patches. We should note that Commissioner Dave Gilmour opposed the motion, for the same reasons we object: There are too many basic services not being provided by the county to allow for the expenditure of that kind of money on what has to be considered non-essential equipment.

We're sure the Sheriff's Department will put the infrared scanner to good use (it also can be used for search and rescue efforts), but $529,000 could be put to other good use — taking care of crumbling roads, reopening our libraries for more hours and adequately staffing the many departments that have gone through cut after cut in recent years, to name just a few.

We should probably not be surprised at this vote. One commissioner, the usually sensible C.W. Smith, is a former sheriff and, later, Winter's second-in-command. The other is a man stuck in the 1950s, Jack Walker, who poured salt on an open wound during the discussion by declaring, "Nobody dies because the library doesn't open or because there's dust on our roads."

We suspect people actually have died because of dust on roads, either from inhaling it for years or because of impaired vision while driving. Something else dies when you turn your back on libraries and knowledge, but we're not surprised Commissioner Walker doesn't recognize that.

Again, we don't dispute the need to go after the big marijuana plantations and applaud the successes the sheriff has had. But the commissioners do us all a disservice when they buy extras for the get-tough-on-crime guys at the expense of many other critical departments.

We don't fault the sheriff for asking for the equipment. But the commissioners shouldn't be buying Cadillacs for one department while the rest are getting by in dinged-up Chevys.

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