Boundary County, Idaho, officials warned Waco on Tuesday against extending credit to federal officials involved in the siege.
As the siege at the Branch Davidian compound headed toward its 11th day, Idaho officials complained that they have more than $50,000 in outstanding federal debts left over from an 11-day standoff there last summer.
Meanwhile, McLennan County officials are asking elected federal officials to help fund the ongoing law enforcement presence 10 miles east of Waco.
McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis said Tuesday he has talked with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco; U.S. Sen. Bob Krueger, D-Texas; and the U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, about the funding situation.
He said there may be some discretionary funding available to help the county with the cost of the siege. Lewis said the money may come from the Justice Department.
He said as far as “which pocket it is coming out of, I couldn’t answer that.”
County sheriff deputies and constables have spent 232 to 280 hours at the compound since Feb. 28. The officers are paid on a salaried, rather than an hourly, basis.
He said total county expenses for the standoff were not available since the salaries are on a monthly schedule.
Ron Smith, the chairman of the Boundary County Commission in Bonner’s Ferry, Idaho, said the federal government has $51,527 in outstanding bills left hanging after an 11-day drama involving Randy Weaver in August 1992.
That situation ended with Weaver surrendering to federal officials. Weaver’s wife, 13-year-old son and a federal marshal were killed in a shooting melee at the beginning of the standoff.
The standoff came after Weaver refused to surrender to authorities after being charged with federal weapons violations.
Smith said Boundary County Sheriff Bruce Wittaker sent a letter to Waco warning them of the federal government’s bad credit record in Idaho.
City of Waco and McLennan County officials said Tuesday they have not received word from the sheriff.
McLennan County Sheriff’s department deputies, with law enforcement officers from all over Central Texas, have been manning checkpoints at the Branch Davidian compound since four Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were killed Feb. 28.
Tom Hill, a spokesman for the ATF in Washington, said the federal government does not reimburse local law enforcement agencies who devote manpower to federal operations.
“No one was paid in the past,” he said.
“People who are out there are in their official capacity as public safety officers,” Hill said.
He said local law enforcement has always helped in such situations.
Besides the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement officials from cities including Waco, Woodway, Cleburne, Austin, Crawford, Moody, McGregor and Killeen have sent officers to the compound to man the outer checkpoints.
Killeen Police Chief F.L. Giacomozzi said his department sent his Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team on March 1 to handle the checkpoint at Old Mexia road and Double E Ranch road.
He said the department does not expect to get reimbursed for the time of the officers.
Still on their beats
Bellmead Police Chief Robert Harold said he has not pulled officers off the streets to help with the checkpoints at the compound.
Several officers have pulled duty at the compound, he said.
He said the department wants to help the federal officers.
“Right now, it’s a brotherhood around here,” Harold said. But it could become a problem for the department’s overtime budget if the siege of the Davidian compound continues.
“We will do our part within reason,” he said.
Beverly Hills Police Chief Cliff Swanner said federal authorities called him a week ago for help. He said three officers have spent a total of 24 hours at the compound. The officers are not paid for the time, but are volunteering.
Swanner said the Beverly Hills City Council has approved using the volunteers for now.
But he said they are keeping track of the officers’ hours in case money is made available.
In Idaho, the fight for reimbursement has been going on for seven months.
The bills ranged from food for evacuees from the area of the standoff to bills from a private fire department to stand by near the site.
“They never came right out and said ‘we will pay,’” Boundary County’s Commissioner Smith said of comments from federal agents last summer.
He said the agents told him they would “do everything we can do to see that you get paid.”
Smith said they county evacuated people near the site into hotels. The federal government paid the hotel bills of $5,600 for the residents, but did not pay $3,606 in damages and meals of the evacuated residents.
Bob Miller, the managing editor of the Bonner’s Ferry Herald, said he has been on the telephone every day with the FBI for months, trying to track down why the government hasn’t paid its bills.
Bad credit rating
An editorial in today’s edition of the Idaho newspaper expressed the county’s frustration with the situation.
“The government has taken the tack that they do not understand the bills they are being asked to pay, but the county commission has a hard time buying that story since they have repeatedly sent the FBI detailed accountings of claims being presented for payment,” the editorial said.
“The unpaid federal debts in Boundary County are a direct reflection on the integrity of our government…Boundary County officials were correct to warn officials in Waco, Texas, that the government has a bad credit rating in Idaho.”
Smith said the federal government did pay some of the county’s bills.
He said federal agents moved in heavy equipment to the site and found a county bridge could not support the load. The government did reimburse the county 10,000 for the repairs.
“They paid that bill,” he said. The government did not pay a $28,000 bill to the North Branch Volunteer Fire District.
Fire Chief Gary Gage said his fire district is a private nonprofit group that charges about 600 homeowners for fire service.
He said the Idaho fire marshal asked the department to have a mini pumper truck at the federal command post of the Idaho standoff. He said the federal agents needed the truck in case there was a fire at Weaver’s home. But they also needed the truck and fire extinguishers because the agents kept catching their base camp tents on fire with space heaters.
He said the bill for the service was $28,000. The government did not pay the bill.
In a Feb. 18, 1993, letter, the FBI’s James J. Jasinki said if a government agency is required to render a service, it can’t charge the federal government.
But Gage said the organization is a private agency that does not use public funds. And he said the command post wasn’t in the department’s fire district.