Mon County police department secures additional vehicles

MORGANTOWN — A 20-year effort has paid off, and for the first time in the department’s history every Monongalia County Sheriff’s deputy now has a take-home vehicle.

“This is huge for the county,” Sheriff Perry Palmer said.

Palmer thanked the Monongalia County Commission for its efforts in securing the new vehicles, which brings the total number of patrol cars to 41.

He said his predecessors, Sheriffs Joe Bartolo and Al Kisner, now chief deputy, both tried to get the commission to provide enough cars for each deputy, but the financial situation wasn’t right, until now.

Deputy Jacob Coe said his neighbors have told him they like and appreciate having a sheriff’s vehicle parked in the neighborhood. He said being able to take his patrol vehicle home means he’s able to drive straight to the station in the morning and get on the road earlier. Previously, deputies shared cars and getting held up on a call meant the next deputy couldn’t start.

Not only do the new cars improve community policing, they are saving the county money. Commissioner Sean Sikora said after Palmer approached the commission about a take-home vehicle program he did some research on the department’s current fleet and found some “shocking” statistics.

Four of the department’s 40 vehicles were excluded from the analysis because they were new, Sikora said. The 36 remaining vehicles had an average age of almost 6 years with an average 83,955 miles. Fifteen of the vehicles were older than 6 years, some as old as 12, he said.

One reason for the high mileage is some vehicles were being used for two or three shifts, Palmer said.

Even worse, the vehicles had 210 total service years and 102, or 49 percent of those years, were not covered by warranty — making the county responsible for repair and maintenance costs, he explained.

Thanks to the new vehicles, only 40 percent of the fleet’s years are not under warranty.

“Just those initial projections of more of the vehicles being under warranty obviously saves us all those years of maintenance costs,” Sikora said.

The county’s new fleet management strategy relies on leasing the vehicles, an idea from Commissioner Ed Hawkins, Sikora said.

One requirement that helps save money was selecting a standard vehicle, the Ford Police Interceptor, which is basically a Ford Explorer. Having a standard vehicle reduces maintenance costs because parts can be ordered in bulk, he said.

The county placed a competitive bid for 10 vehicles and the winning bid was for about $486/month per patrol car, Sikora said. The contract also includes quarterly meetings with the company to provide fleet management services.

The lease requires the department to keep the vehicles for one year before switching to a month-to-month lease. Sikora said there is an option to trade the vehicle back and after it’s sold the county will get the difference between the sale value and the residual value.

“Say the vehicle has a residual value of $2,000 and we turn it in and they sell it for $5,000, we get that three,” he said.

He said that option could be exercised on a vehicle that gets used more than normal. Even if the county leases the vehicle for the full five years and pays the 10 percent residual value to own the vehicle, it saves $1,309.71 or a touch over 3 percent compared to buying them off the showroom floor, Sikora said.

Commission President Tom Bloom played a role as well, helping to shape the new policy that came with the take-home vehicle program. Palmer said there was a department-wide meeting and the new policy was explained. He said those who didn’t follow the new policy would face consequences.

The vehicles also increase officer safety. Sikora said that many of the old vehicles didn’t have safety features that are now standard, such as side impact warning and a backup camera.

Additional savings come in the form of gas consumption and in the future the budget will be more predictable, Sikora said.

“This allows us to be proactive,” he said. “We know what the costs are and we have the flexibility [to get rid of a vehicle] if we’re going to lose money.”

There are an additional eight vehicles on order, which will replace older vehicles, Sikora said.

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