The presentations were made by Gregory C. Branum, state director for USDA Rural Development, at the Mississippi County Ambulance District Office on Highway 105 between East Prairie and Charleston. "It's a tremendous honor to be able to do this," he said.
"To see that tax money going back into these communities is awesome," said Jenny Goncher, Sen. Jim Talent's staff assistant at Cape Girardeau, on behalf of the senator.
Talent and Eighth District Rep. Jo Ann Emerson were unable to attend but did forward comments on the grant awards.
"Missouri is home to some of the best-trained law enforcement officials and first responders in the country and we need to make certain they have access to the best equipment to do their jobs," Talent said. "One of the reasons I support the grant process is because it's a way for the federal government to partner with local communities. Our job is to find out what our first responders in Missouri need and then do whatever we can to meet those needs. In this case, first responders in Mississippi County told us they needed new vehicles and we fulfilled their request."
"Our first responders are on the front lines of all kinds of emergencies and they face challenges and circumstances you don't ordinarily find in the cities. For example, their emergency vehicles see a lot of hard miles," said Emerson. "The upgrades we are announcing today represent a tremendous investment in health and safety for Southern Missouri."
The Mississippi County Ambulance District received a grant of $100,950 to purchase four new cardiac defibrillators/monitors and a new ambulance.
"We are excited about this opportunity to partner with USDA Rural Development and maintain the level of care the ambulance district is always striving for," said Bill Feezor, president of the ambulance district's board. "This is a return of our tax dollars to the community and we appreciate this grant assistance."
Charleston's community facility grant of $63,300 will be used to purchase four police cars and a grant of $46,200 was awarded to the city of East Prairie for two fully-equipped police vehicles.
"It will be a great assistance and is very appreciated," said Capt. Robert Hearnes of the Charleston Police Department.
"Without this grant, the city would not be able to purchase four new patrol cars, which are greatly needed at this time," said Charleston Mayor Jack Feezor. "The city of Charleston is grateful for the opportunity that Rural Development has allowed us with the approval of this grant."
"Had our city not been chosen to receive these two fully-equipped vehicles, we would have purchased one used Highway Patrol car with the money we had budgeted," said Gene Ditto, East Prairie's mayor. "Instead, we can take the budgeted amount to pay our 25 percent share of the total cost with the USDA giving 75 percent of that total."
The Mississippi County Rescue Squad will get a new vehicle to carry response team equipment using its $37,500 grant from Rural Development, replacing a high-mileage vehicle.
"The Rescue Squad is a true non-profit organization and is vital to the residents of the county," said Danny Harris, director for the squad. "Almost all of the funds we receive are from donations and fund-raising activities. It is important to keep our equipment updated to meet the goals of the squad and we can not thank USDA Rural Development enough for this grant."
The Mississippi County Sheriff's Department is receiving $30,000 to purchase two new four-wheel drive vehicles for search and rescue missions in remote parts of the county.
"As the sheriff of a county with the lowest tax base in the entire bootheel of Missouri, I can not convey to you enough the seriousness of the financial situation we are experiencing," said Sheriff Keith Moore.
Moore said this grant was his department's only way to get vehicles this year and that he is looking forward to working with Rural Development officials in the future.
Branum in making the grant announcements said Rural Development staff members Terry Luetkemeyer, area director; Catherine Walters, Rural Development manager at Charleston; Tracy Williams, Rural Development specialist; Cynthia Northern, area specialist; and Belinda Worth, area specialist, are "the best Rural Development staff in the nation" and one of three factors required to make grant awards like those presented Monday.
"The second thing it takes are applicants ... that will put up with a mountain of paperwork," he said.
The third critical element is the region's elected representatives working in Washington, D.C., to make the grants possible, Branum said, naming U.S. Senators "Kit" Bond and Talent and Emerson as "strong proponents for the necessary funding for essential services for rural Missourians."