After the Klickitat County Sheriff's Office got its 2001 budget request for four new patrol vehicles turned down, Sheriff Chris Mace was hopeful he could get new rigs in 2002.
Mace's patience has paid off: In late June, KCSO took delivery of three new vehicles, with two more expected by the end of this week. All of them are 2002 Chevy Blazers.
Mace said the five patrol vehicles cost a total of $145,000, which includes all their specialized equipment and KCSO decals.
"We asked for six in 2002, and the county authorized five," Mace said. "At the time of the request, we had 11 vehicles with 110,000-plus miles on them. We did not purchase any cars last year."
According to Mace, KCSO has 16 vehicles used in patrol work, with 11 of those having more than 110,000 miles on them. Even after the five new vehicles are blended in, the department will still have five or six vehicles with over 100,000 miles.
Mace pointed out that the Sheriff's Office pays into a vehicle purchase fund every year. He said he doesn't understand why he was not allowed to tap that fund for new patrol cars last year.
"We put in $141,000 this year, and $141,000 last year," Mace explained. "I needed six new vehicles. Where did that money go? Basically, the commissioners said, `we think you can go another year without replacing them.' It's like Social Security. We're paying into it, but when we go to use it, the money's not there. We contributed to the vehicle fund, but the request to purchase wasn't authorized."
County Commissioner Ray Thayer said he recalled that Sheriff Mace agreed last year to defer the purchase for a year.
"It seems to me we discussed this with Chris," Thayer said. "There was a problem with whether we had enough money to do anything with in terms of new vehicles, and Chris said he thought he needed some cars but probably could get by for a year."
Thayer added that the vehicle fund comes from the county's coffers, not specifically from each department.
"I wouldn't say they are paying into the fund," Thayer explained. "We're putting that money from the general fund to purchase these vehicles. Right now we're overextended on the amount of money."
Cris McEwen, who works in the County Commissioners' office in Goldendale and oversees the vehicle replacement fund, explained that 15 county departments pay into the account.
"Just because they pay in doesn't mean a department has accumulated enough to buy new ones," McEwen explained. "You have to take into consideration what the department spent the year before."
Thayer added that the cost to equip KCSO vehicles is taken into account as well. He pointed out that KCSO had been using Jeep Cherokees, but when the manufacturer stopped making them, a new model had to be used. As a result, all the equipment -- light bars, screens, etc. -- for the patrol vehicles had to be changed too, because they equipment no longer fit.
"There is a big cost of the equipment to gear these rigs up," Thayer said. "That throws an added expense."
"We have to keep a fund balance," McEwen added. "There are far more departments needing vehicles than the Sheriff's Office. Sometimes they have a tendency to forget that. Not all of them request replacement vehicles every year, but at some point others may have vehicles that need replacement."
Mace said he could have used more than the five vehicles the County Commissioners authorized this year.
"Since we didn't purchase any vehicles last year, we probably could have used eight of them, but we do the best we can with what we get," Mace said. "I don't like to see any patrol rigs run over 110,000 miles. They start running into safety problems after that."
"I'm sure he's got some cars with over 100,000 miles, but I don't know if they're out there critical on patrol," Thayer said.
McEwen said there is no cap on mileage for vehicles operated by county employees.
"We have a lot of county vehicles with over 100,000 miles on them," she explained.
There have been relatively few vehicle purchases by county departments in recent years. The Building Department got a new Jeep Cherokee in 2001, and the Buildings & Grounds Department purchased a used vehicle that year.
In 2000, the Planning Department bought a new Jeep.
This year, three county departments purchased vehicles: the Health Department, Buildings & Grounds, and the Washington State University Extension Office. Each department bought one 2002 Ford Explorer, but the vehicles were considered used because they had several thousand miles on them when they were purchased by the county.
McEwen said the total cost of the three Explorers bought this year was $67,832.
By contrast, McEwen noted that KCSO obtained four new vehicles in 2000: Two Ford Expeditions, and two Jeeps. In 1999, KCSO bought four new Jeeps, and in 1998, KCSO purchased seven new vehicles.
McEwen pointed out that the Sheriff's Office took delivery of seven cars in 1998 because it missed a deadline the year before.
"The reason they didn't get them [in 1997] is no fault of anybody but their own," McEwen said. "The Sheriff's Office screwed up the bid process and missed the state bid [deadline]. They didn't get vehicles ordered in time, so they got them the following year."
"That kind of threw us out of kilter," agreed Commissioner Thayer.
McEwen added that the car County Commissioner Joan Frey drives has also been in line for replacement, but she had deferred the purchase.
"She's opted not to replace hers. It's been scheduled for replacement the last two years," she said.
Frey's car, a 1996 Mercury Sable -- which the county bought used -- has about 88,000 miles on it.
McEwen said Frey has a car because she drives to many meetings out of the county.
"When the Legislature is in session, she travels every other week to Olympia," she explained. "She has a car due to her involvement with organizations and committees associated with the county."
Mace said his biggest concern with aging cars was that one of his deputies might not be able to respond adequately in an emergency situation, or worse, a KCSO employee could get hurt.
"These vehicles will have 180,000 miles on them by the time we cycle them out now," Mace said.
The vehicles removed from the KCSO roster this summer were 1998 models.
According to County Treasurer Dani Burton, the county's vehicle fund currently has $288,459.98 in it, with another $475,000 invested with the state. The invested portion allows the county to bring in some additional revenue through interest until the funds are needed.
Burton reported that at the end of 2001, the county's vehicle fund had a balance of $730,270 in it. At the end of 2000, the balance was $522,000.
"The money is there," Burton said. "I think it was their [County Commissioners] decision, as opposed to the money not being there."