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Hall County patrol cars rolling up the miles
Department bought last new Ford in 2007 before budget problems hit
Hall County Deputy Sheriff George Coley, right, watches as mechanics Travis Thur, left, and Alan Grier, center, inspect a patrol car Friday inside the Hall County fleet maintenance shop. Due to budgetary constraints, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office has not purchased a new patrol car in two years. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Every weekday, at least five Hall County Sheriff’s patrol cars are given a thorough looking-over at the county’s fleet maintenance shop.

The Arizona beige Ford Crown Victorias seen on Hall County roads are the most visible face of the agency, and these days, some are showing their age.

Two years since the last new cruiser was purchased, more than half of the sheriff’s cars have odometer readings into six digits. Some cars that have been taken out of patrol service and rotated back to other divisions have mileage as high as 225,000.

“With the cars getting older, our main issues have been transmissions, motors, and I just see that we’re spending more money keeping these cars repaired than they’re sometimes worth.” said Donna Welsh, the quartermaster for the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.

Right now the highest mileage for a Hall County Sheriff’s patrol car, which gets by far the most wear and tear, is 170,000, some 45,000 miles over the recommended industry limit of 125,000 for front-line units.

But it’s the high-mileage cars that have been rotated back to other divisions that are causing the most concern.

“Right now we’re at a point where we have to tell the (deputies), if they break down, they’ll have to buddy up, because we’re down to just a few left,” Welsh said.

In an effort to cut costs in a time of reduced revenues, the Hall County Commission requested that the sheriff’s office not budget any capital expenditures — including patrol cars — for the past two budget cycles. That request is expected again in the upcoming budget, though officials indicate there may be a compromise when it comes to cars.

Prior to the freeze, the sheriff’s office bought 25 new Crown Vics a year at a cost of about $625,000, or roughly $25,000 per car. All the new cars went to patrol deputies and their supervisors on the road, not senior command staff. The older cars were taken off 12-hour-a-day road service for less rigorous duty in the jail, warrants and court services divisions.

The uniform patrol division gets a lot of use out of the approximately 100 cars in its fleet. Last year Hall County patrol deputies drove a combined 2.3 million miles, with each car driven between 20,000 to 25,000 miles in a year.

Currently, 53 percent of the fleet has more than 100,000 miles, said Hall County Chief Deputy Col. Jeff Strickland. Officials prefer to use the cars for patrolling until they hit 125,000 miles, then turn them over to another division until they hit about 200,000, then turn them over to the county for other uses or to sell to the public.

“Once our cars begin to wear out, it effects safety issues for our officers and their ability to deliver the services that are required,” Strickland said.

Strickland said Sheriff Steve Cronic has met with county officials to talk about the need for new cars to replace some of the aging fleet.

“We fully understand the economic situation,” Strickland said. “We are going to be team players and do what we have to, at the same time delivering quality services to the citizens.”

Hall County Commission Chairman Tom Oliver said officials will “have to look at how the budget will have to be moved around a little bit to accommodate that.

“As in a lot of different situations, I’m sure they’re not going to get all they need, but they’re going to get some patrol cars,” Oliver said.

As for how many, that remains to be seen.

“This is an opportunity to share ideas and see what we can work with and what we can work without,” Oliver said.