Brakes applied to suggested overhaul of Sheriff’s fleet

By Chris Berendt

June 16, 2014

A move to halt all Dodge Charger purchases by the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office was nearly made last week when one county commissioner said he felt there could be some savings as a result. The motion was ultimately tabled, but not before it received a second and extensive discussion.

During a recent budget meeting, Commissioner Jarvis McLamb made a motion that no additional Dodge purchases be authorized for the Sheriff’s Office, stating he has been told savings could be had with another provider.

Board chairman Jefferson Strickland said the county “was on dangerous grounds” if it began to dictate the car brands, while he and commissioner Billy Lockamy said there were no cost savings figures provided to back up taking that action. Commissioner Albert Kirby said he felt confident in McLamb’s knowledge of the situation and seconded the motion.

“I don’t see how we can sit here and say he can’t buy (Dodge Chargers) now. It may be the best vehicle for the money,” said Lockamy. “I can’t see doing that.”

“We’ve got to cut some things,” McLamb replied, “and we don’t need no vehicles that are running 140 miles per hour out there on Sampson County roads.” Lockamy said an individual can buy a vehicle that runs even faster than that and the Sheriff’s Office needed a vehicle that would adequately handle emergency needs.

McLamb said he was concerned about the cost of the Dodge Chargers, as well as what he felt were higher-priced repairs.

Additionally, Lockamy said he would have to see some cost savings figures before moving ahead with something that would drastically impact the Sheriff’s Office. Strickland noted the lack of “hard data,” saying that department heads should be relied upon to make recommendations regarding vehicles. Both stated they “could not act on” the motion.

“I think it’s the commissioners’ job that, if they feel like there’s a way to save the taxpayers money, they must do it,” Kirby said.

The recommended 2014-15 budget proposes replacements for 18 vehicles in the sheriff’s fleet of cars; the motion would have meant none could be Dodges.

Sheriff Jimmy Thornton raised concerns that the $5,800 investment in the 25 per-vehicle propane conversions may not transfer from the aged-out Dodges to a Ford or Chevy. Savings in using propane versus gasoline is roughly $3,000-$4,000 a month for the vehicles. Propane currently costs half of what gasoline does, he noted. On top of that, the sheriff said, when looking at state vehicle contracts, there “is very little savings, if any, in changing automobiles.”

A quick scan of current state contracts for police vehicles conducted by finance officer David Clack showed that the Chevrolet Caprice was priced at $26,000; Chevrolet Impala was priced at $20,000; various Ford models were priced between $23,400-$27,400; and Dodge Chargers were priced at $22,000-$24,700.

“We made that investment and I’d certainly hate to see that be wasted if we were unable to transfer it,” the sheriff said of the propane conversions. “These 25 cars that are on the road are primarily the cars that put on the high miles each month, anywhere from 3,000-4,000 miles a month.”

“You have to take into account the whole picture when you start making decisions as it relates to something of this magnitude,” the sheriff remarked. “I’m sure that a lot of those vehicles were have requested are some of those mileaged-out vehicles that currently have the propane system installed. I’m not sure if that system will transfer from a Dodge to a Ford or Chevrolet or whatever. I have no idea.”

Answering McLamb’s other concern about speed, Thornton noted that while “the lion’s share” of agencies were almost exclusively Dodge Chargers, any vehicle the Sheriff’s Office utilized would be equipped with the police package — per state contracts — that allows those high-speed capabilities.

Commissioner Harry Parker said the matter “was worth looking into” for potential savings.

“We’re being asked to make a decision on something we do not have the proper information about,” Strickland commented. “I cannot support it not knowing any more than I do about which would be the best. I just don’t know.”

The motion was ultimately — and unanimously — tabled to gather more information on potential cost savings of switching automobile providers.

“I’d like to get information that would support what Mr. McLamb says,” Kirby stated. “He has an inclination that it could save (money) and I’d like to see that. I think everyone would want to see that if that’s the case.”

Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121. Follow us on twitter @SampsonInd.