August 21, 2013Having relied on inexpensive used cars for years, the Crawford County Sheriff's Department is hoping to start a fleet rotation in order to provide more reliable vehicles that are better suited for the county's terrain. However, when presented with the proposal last Tuesday night, the county council opted to study the matter.
Chief Deputy Shawn Scott proposed transitioning the department's fleet, mostly made up of used Ford Crown Victorias purchased from Floyd County, to sport-utility vehicles and extended cab trucks. However, instead of purchasing the vehicles outright, he suggested that the county do like other departments, including Dubois County and Paoli, have done and lease them.
Scott, who obtained quotes from the Uebelhor and Sons Chevrolet and Ruxer Ford dealerships in Jasper, said leasing the vehicles would increase their cost only minimally, but would make the initial outlay more palatable.
"Lease, I think, is going to be the way that governments are going to be able to go. Instead of looking at big money out front, you're going to be able to go to a lease," he said.
If purchased outright, the costs, Scott said, would be $28,190.25 and $26,726 for the Ford and Chevrolet SUVs, respectively, and $25,319.25 and $27,749 for the Ford and Chevrolet trucks, respectively. A new Ford car would be $26,463.25, he added.
Scott said the annual payments on a four-year lease, which would include unlimited mileage and a 100,000 mile warranty, would be $7,837.83 and $7,338 for the Ford and Chevrolet SUVs, respectively, and $7,051 and $7,619 for the Ford and Chevrolet trucks, respectively. However, he added, the Ford SUV lease payment would drop to $7,670 if four were leased at one time because doing so would lower the interest rate.
"I am leaning toward the Fords," Scott said, when comparing the SUVs. "The reason being is because the Chevy is basically just a vehicle that is sitting on a car lot. That's all you're buying. The Ford is a heavy-duty transmission, heavy-duty oil cooler, 220-amp alternator, skid pans. It's built for police."
The quotes are for "plain Jane" models, he said, explaining that, while all feature a V6 engine and power windows and locks for security, they have vinyl seats and floor coverings. The only addition would be a tow package for the heavy-duty transmission, he said.
Scott said the four-wheel drive SUVs and trucks, with their higher clearance, would be able to get to places more easily than the department's current low-riding cars. While the county's roads have been improved, poorly maintained driveways still pose challenges, he said.
"In the cars, when the winter gets bad, it's all we can do to get there," he said.
Scott added that more police departments are transitioning to SUVs and extended cab trucks because the role of law enforcement is changing.
"The days of the big high-speed pursuits are gone," he said. "We just need to be economical and get there safely."
Since the cost would be about the same, Scott, who first approached the county commissioners last month, proposed leasing two trucks and two SUVs in order for the department to get hands-on experience to see which of the vehicle would be best for the county's terrain.
While the initial outlay — $29,543 plus $15,000 to $20,000 for equipment — would require use of current funds — Scott proposed using Orange County gaming dollars — he suggested that a portion of the Harrison County gaming revenue that the council recently voted to hold back from the Crawford County Community School Corp., along with a percentage of the revenue generated from the jail housing Indiana Department of Correction inmates, be placed in an escrow account for the purchase of two vehicles in each of the following years. A portion of Harrison County gaming revenue already is placed into an escrow account for the purchase of new ambulances.
Scott added that the vehicles, which could be purchased for $1 at the end of the four-year lease, could then be sold, with the trucks likely generating half the total lease cost, paying for two years of a new four-year lease.
While he didn't know by how much, Councilman Doug McLain, who owns Anthony's Auto Mall in New Salisbury, said being in a police fleet would lower the resale value.
Asked by council president Jerry Brewer for the thoughts of the board, McLain said he wanted to wait until he had more information.
"I personally don't want to act on it tonight," he said. "I want to table it. I mean, anytime you're talking about $100,000, I don't want to just make a snap decision."
Asked by Brewer what is the average mileage put on the cars each year, Scott said it ranges between 18,000 and 25,000.
"If you get up, Jerry, to 160,000, 170,000 (total), we're pushing it," Wilkerson said.
He noted that a large portion of yearly maintenance costs, which Scott earlier noted have been as high as $14,000, is for brakes.
McLain said those costs would still be present on newer vehicles.
However, Scott said the Ford Interceptor SUVs, being built for police, have larger rotors, making them last longer. He said one law enforcement official from another county who has one of the SUVS said they "haven't had a dime's worth of problems" during the first 40,000 miles.
Councilman Steve Bartels said he would support allowing the sheriff's department to utilize a portion of the money generated from housing DOC offender for vehicles.
"I have no problem with that. I don't know what percent, but that would be something for debate," he said. "I'm probably not in favor of spending any money right now until we figure out the budget. But I definitely would be in favor of coming up with an escrow account and using that DOC money. I think it's appropriate."
With just 22 DOC offenders in custody as of last week, the jail, which just recently began housing state prisoners again, isn't generating enough revenue to support an escrow account on its own. Wilkerson, however, said he has been told those numbers should increase.
"I keep hearing they're going to get us up to back around 50 like we were as long as we keep doing what we're supposed to do," he said.
It appeared the council would wait until at least next month before discussing the matter in more detail, but it later returned to the issue later in the meeting at the request of Scott.
Bartels again talked about using DOC revenue to fund an escrow account, adding that it could be capped.
"Does anybody have any animosity toward an escrow account for the sheriff's department?" he asked.
"We never did set one up," McLain said. "We always told the sheriff that when they needed (a vehicle), we would" help purchase one.
Brewer and Councilman William Breeding agreed that establishing an escrow account would tie the hands of future council, since it wouldn't allow those funds to be used elsewhere.
"I'm not voting for anything long-term, I'm not voting for anything that's a percentage, and I'm not voting for a lease. I'll vote to buy them a car with the funds we have on hand," Brewer said. "Find it somewhere, and we'll buy them one."
"How can we do it with an ambulance?" Bartels asked, referring to the escrow fund to purchase ambulances. "Because somebody knew that it makes sense that you put a little bit of money away so that, when you do have to buy an ambulance, the money's already there to buy an ambulance. What's the difference?"
"We've bought one (a police car) every time Tim's come and asked for one," Brewer said, noting Wilkerson has helped with the costs. "We've worked together."
Bartels, however, reiterated that setting aside money now would help in the future.
"I personally believe that, from a business standpoint, it makes sense to put a little bit of money away in an account that they can buy vehicles with so they don't come and surprise us and say, 'Now, it's an emergency. I have to have a vehicle," and we have to come out with the money," he said.
Wilkerson said the sheriff's department has "knuckled down" and purchased used vehicles, while the county has purchased new vehicles for other departments.
"All my stuff has been used. I'm grateful, and I help. I'm grateful. It's time that the sheriff's department, if we've got the money," have better vehicles, he said.
"You think you've been neglected?" McLain asked.
"I've not been neglected," Wilkerson said.
"That's what you're saying," McLain said. "You're saying you get used and everybody else gets new."
"I said I was grateful, too," Wilkerson said.
"And then you said used. You wouldn't have brought it up if you didn't feel …" McLain said.
"Well, we're not talking about feelings. We're just talking about facts," Wilkerson said. "It's time that the sheriff's department had a little money set aside to buy a couple of new vehicles. That's all I'm saying."
The last time the sheriff's department received a new vehicle was in 2007. Before that, it was in 1998.
For years, the department has purchased high-mileage vehicles from the Floyd County Sheriff's Department, first for $1,500 each and most recently for $5,000.