A stagnant motor pool at the Hall County Sheriff’s Office will soon be invigorated with several new patrol cars.
To update its aging fleet, the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved a request for $550,000 from Sheriff Gerald Couch to buy 12-14 new patrol cars and refurbish another four or five.
Sheriff’s office spokesman Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks said the new cars will “most likely” be Chevrolet Caprice models.
“With the Ford Crown Victoria no longer being produced, we tested most of the new offerings on the market. We were in search of a vehicle that provided at least as much interior room as the Crown Vic, adequate power, and we wanted to stay with a rear-wheel-drive model,” he said.
The Chevy Caprice met or exceeded all of those requirements, he said.
“It has plenty of room in the driver compartment as well as trunk storage, ample power for our needs, it handles very well, and it gets roughly 5 mpg better mileage than the Crown Vic,” he said.
The sheriff’s office has bought five patrol cars in the past five years, when “an agency our size should be purchasing 20 to 25 vehicles per year to keep our fleet up to standards,” Couch told the Hall County Board of Commissioners on May 21.
Two-thirds of the fleet have been driven more than 100,000 miles, nearly one-fifth have between 150,000 and 200,000 miles, and 9 percent have more than 200,000 miles.
A car refurbishment program initiated by Couch will continue to be implemented, but it has drawbacks, Wilbanks said.
“While we want to continue to utilize this service as much as is practical, we can’t solely rely on refurbishing cars, as the program does have its limitations: down-time for a refurbished car is four to six weeks, without reliable spare cars to be used in the interim,” he said.
Wilbanks also noted the less efficient gas mileage of the Crown Vic, and the added costs of parts and maintenance for the now out-of-production car.
“While the refurbishing program is a good short-term money saver, we have to plan beyond that by supplementing our fleet with a number of new patrol cars,” he said.
Another cost-saving initiative is the creation of a full-time certified mechanic for the motor pool.
The mechanic’s position was funded by converting two vacant positions in the jail division, Wilbanks said.
According to Wilbanks, the office estimates an annual savings of about $140,000.
Over the past three years, the office has spent about $1.3 million in vehicle maintenance, Couch told the commission.
“Not only will we see a cost savings as a result of this, but we should also see a faster turn-around on repairs,” he said. “Currently, all of our major repair work is sent to outside auto repair businesses, who of course must service all of their customers in a timely manner, not just the sheriff’s office. With our own mechanic assigned to fleet maintenance, his No. 1 priority will be our fleet, so we expect a much quicker turnaround.”