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Roanoke Rapids City Council on a 3-2 vote Wednesday approved a police vehicle leasing program which is expected to represent a cost savings to the department’s maintenance budget.

Council members Carl Ferebee and Sandra Bryant voted against the measure because they wanted a more detailed analysis of the program.

Finance presentations

City Finance Director Leigh Etheridge told council that due to the current economic climate and “ever-present demands of the theater notes payable on the budget, the city has had little to no funding available to acquire capital for our department needs city-wide.”

Etheridge said the problem is especially evident within the police department with its fleet of aging vehicles. “Even with the acquisition of the few police vehicles from the most recent installment financing purchases, there still remains a great need for the replacement of the city’s aging fleet.”

The city has vehicles as old as 2007 with mileage exceeding 100,000 on most. “This poses substantial operational problems and delays for the patrol division in effectively managing their scheduled shifts. Most of these vehicles require constant service by our central garage or by outside vendors when the repairs are beyond the scope of internal service capabilities,” Etheridge said.

The vehicles with the most problems have been a 2011 Crown Victoria; a 2013 Dodge Charger; a 2011 Dodge Charger; a 2007 Crown Victoria; a 2007 Dodge Charger; a 2007 Crown Victoria; a 1999 Crown Victoria used by Citizens on Patrol; a 2007 Crown Victoria; a 2013 Dodge Charger; and a 2011 Crown Victoria.

The total for those vehicles alone have cost the city some $116,480 in labor, parts and outside labor, according to a document included in Wednesday’s agenda packet.

The total to date for all the department’s vehicles is $328,500.

In the 2019-2020 operational budget the city spent $42,842 for police vehicle repairs. “We expect to see this number surpass last year’s spending based on operational problems this fleet has already experienced during the first fiscal quarter of 2020,” Etheridge told council. “The city has spent and encumbered funding in excess of $10,000 during the first quarter alone. We expect this expenditure to continually increase each quarter.”

Etheridge said, however, the city has an opportunity to enter into a contract with Enterprise Fleet Management. This would allow the city to phase into a leasing program which would also allow for the removal of aged vehicles to surplus sooner while acquiring newer vehicles from Enterprise. 

The initial startup costs would be $5,000 per new vehicle followed by a monthly payment of $550 for six new Chargers with V-6 engines.

Spending this money, Etheridge said, would result in a cost savings of $12,000 to the department’s maintenance budget.

“This is a cost effective measure going forward due to substantially reducing vehicle maintenance costs … Administration will also have a better opportunity to budget police fleet management requirements with cost of vehicle rotation through the lease payments each year,” she said, which would be offset by reduced fuel and maintenance costs. There would be no added insurance costs.

Police presentation

Chief Bobby Martin told council, “The Roanoke Rapids Police Department is in a position at this time where we are in dire need of patrol vehicles.”

He said the department is now in a position where it is struggling to keep patrol vehicles on the road. “This comes from years of service on the vehicles and not having the funds available to replace them. Even with the purchase of the few new patrol vehicles we are still very much in need of reliable vehicles to replace the remaining outdated and aged patrol vehicles.”

There are currently 23 vehicles which need to be replaced, Martin said. 

There are eleven 2007 vehicles which need to be replaced and ten 2011 vehicles which are in need of replacement. “These vehicles are among some of our problematic vehicles and we are constantly moving them from operation to the public works shop.”

Charger issues

Martin said he decided to go with the six V-6 Chargers because they have a better maintenance record than those with V-8 engines. “I would like to see our fleet replenished so the citizens see our new vehicles and know we take pride in the city of Roanoke Rapids as we protect and serve.”

The problems with the V-8 Chargers include front end rebuilds, lifters going bad and the plastic blower fan coming apart and puncturing the radiator.

The department has had multiple problems with the lifters and each time it cost $4,000 and kept the vehicle out of service for at least three months until an alternative for $800 each was found, Martin said.

The police chief said Bertie County is using the program and has seen savings of 85 percent on maintenance.

Ferebee and Bryant

While Ferebee said he supports new vehicles for the department, he wanted to see a more detailed analysis of the savings.

After quizzing Martin on whether the V-6 Chargers were the way to go, Councilman Wayne Smith moved forward with a motion on the lease, to Ferebee’s objections of wanting further details on the matter before voting.

Council members Ernest Bobbitt and Suetta Scarbrough joined Smith in approving the motion while Ferebee and Bryant dissented.

Ferebee said after the meeting, “We just authorized the city to go spend taxpayer’s money without knowing what we’re actually spending it on. It was indicated that let’s go out and buy X number of cars without a plan saying how many cars, what we’re going to do with the rest of the cars — how are we going to add those to the rotation — and a good plan … We are not prudent with the dollars we just spent.” 

If it was their own vehicles, Ferebee said council members “would go out to different dealerships before we made that decision.”

In lieu of that, Ferbee said, “We need to see a full disclosure of what that is before we make a decision but we’ve got one person that is OK with it and the others went along with it and I’m never going to do that. Rather than having the city manager put something together, bring it back to us, let us look at it and approve it that way. We do that all the time so I don’t understand what the difference was here.”

He said he was in full agreement that the purchase plan could go through a lease program. He said he knows of other cities which get vehicles through similar programs. “I know it’s out there. I know they’re doing that but I guarantee you it’s on paper a little better than what we got.”

Ferebee said he also wants to see a full plan on how the vehicles will be rotated under the program. “If not we’re just going to be rotating these same six over and and over and over and the other ones are going to get older and older and older and, guess what, we’re still going to have to buy some of the other vehicles. What we got were pieces because we’re desperate and we’ll probably end up not getting the best deal we could.”

Bryant also said she was not opposed to buying new police vehicles but the price of the Chargers, because of a typo, was not correct. “Had we gotten that, I would have definitely approved it. What we were presented with was not what we voted on and that was my only issue.”

Martin said this morning he plans to present the breakdown to Ferebee, Bryant and other council members. “I appreciate the city council working with us. Obviously, we’re trying to look out for the taxpayers of Roanoke Rapids.”