JEFFERSON — Eight is enough.
That’s the number of new cruisers the board of commissioners approved for Sheriff William Johnson to purchase on a lease-buy plan that will span three years.
Johnson presented his request to commissioners during a work session Tuesday. He said that, at a minimum, the department should purchase 15 Dodge cruisers by Dec. 7 to lock in a low price and interest rate. He felt buying 20 cars would be a good business decision for the county.
When he learned that only eight cruisers had been approved, Johnson called the board’s action “penny wise and pound foolish.”
Johnson researched prices and financing and came up with a local dealer who could meet the state purchasing price of just over $22,000 per vehicle. Equipping the cars will cost about $4,000 each; the lights and cages from the department’s existing Ford Crown Victoria cruisers won’t work in the new Dodge vehicles.
The department last purchased new cruisers two years ago, when it purchased five Crown Victorials. But that model is no longer produced by Ford, and Johnson is favoring Dodge Chargers as a replacement.
A Kingsville auto dealer is willing to match the state purchasing plan’s price on the cars. Commissioners encourage elected officials to shop locally, and by sending the business to a local dealer, the warranty will stay in the county, as well.
The quote he received is good only until Friday, when the price for each vehicle will rise by $2,000. Johnson researched financing, as well, and found a 1.67 percent, fixed rate, loan with three annual payments. The county could defer the first payment until late 2013 or early 2014, if ncessary.
The sheriff fortified his case for a large purchase by noting that maintenance costs for the aging fleet, which run about $35,000 annually, are set to explode. Most of those costs would be eliminated for the next year as most of the fleet would be under warranty if the board purchased 20 new vehicles. Additionally, the dealer’s oil-change program would save the county money, Johnson said. The county performs most of the maintenance and repairs on its vehicles in house.
Based on a gasoline costing $3.39 a gallon, a cost savings of more than $27,000 would be realized by replacing 17 Fords with the Dodge vehicles, Johnson said. The Charger gets about four more miles to the gallon than what the Fords deliver, and the department typically puts 240,000 miles on its fleet every year.
“It’s a huge amount of money that you are saving with a new car,” he said.
The board, however, was in a cautious mood. Joe Moroski and Dan Claypool expressed concern that if the county replaced much of the fleet in one large purchase, it would be locked into doing the same thing in three years as the cars started to wear out.
“At the end of the third year, you got a whole bunch of old cars and our maintenance costs are going to soar,” Claypool said.
“We’re kind of setting the stage down the road to do another one of these huge purchases again when it may not be as sound of a business decision with the rates that will be offered at that time,” Moroski said.
The cost of each cruiser will be around $26,000 when fully equipped. County Administrator Janet Discher said she will have get with Huntington Bank to come up with an annual payment amount, which will be built into the sheriff’s appropriations.
Johnson reminded the board that buying and maintaining cruisers is a “cost of business” that comes with operating a sheriff’s department.
“It is your guys’ decision,” he told the board. “The right decision is a bare minimum of 15 cars.”