Sheriff’s department proposes scaled-back vehicle replacement program

By Mike Lange
Staff Writer

    DOVER-FOXCROFT — The Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Department vehicle fleet is in rough shape with several patrol vehicles approaching 140,000 miles on their odometers.
    Earlier this fall, Chief Deputy Bob Young unveiled a proposal to replace seven front-line cruisers for an estimated cost of $175,000, either through a lease or outright purchase.

    There is already $62,000 in the vehicle replacement account, he noted, and he estimated that it would cost $30,000-$35,000 per year for four years to upgrade the seven vehicles for the full-time deputies.
    Young also suggested that the department could save money by buying pick-up trucks instead of the more expensive Ford Explorers currently being used.
    But at last week’s county commissioners’ meeting, Young introduced a scaled-down proposal that would — if approved — cost less money but accomplish the same goal.
    “The money we have in the reserve account is enough to buy two cruisers right now,” Young said. “If we could have enough money to buy two more at the beginning of next year, it would give us a total of four new ones.”
    Young added that one of the transport vehicles, a Chevy Suburban with 83,000 miles on it, is also due to be replaced and there’s enough money in a separate reserve account to handle the purchase. So he suggested using the Suburban as a patrol or back-up vehicle “for a couple of years. That way, in 2016 we’d have to buy one (vehicle), in 2017 we’d have to buy one, and in 2018, we’d have to buy two.”
    James Annis, chairman of the commissioners, agreed that it was a “better idea than the original one.”
    Lt. Jamie Kane explained that there is also an advantage of buying a vehicle in the spring when dealers start planning for new inventory. “If you do it later in the year, they have to do a special order so there’s an added cost to that,” Kane said.
    County Finance Administrator John Baiamonte suggested that funds for the new vehicles could be taken from unexpended revenue or surplus which is estimated at $500,000 going into the next calendar year.
    Interim County Manager Tom Lizotte said that while the initial plan to replace seven vehicles gave the budget committee “sticker shock,” all agreed that something had to be done to upgrade the fleet. “We can’t have patrol officers out there with high-mileage vehicles. It’s a safety issue,” he said.
    The new plan, however, would take the county back to a regular replacement schedule “and some certainty going forward,” Lizotte added.
    The sheriff’s department also had a change of heart on the vehicle type and now prefers to stick to Ford Explorers. Kane said that one problem is that “anyone you arrest is going to be sitting up front with you” in a pick-up truck. In addition, a lot of equipment that deputies carry would be under cover in the Explorer instead of exposed in a pick-up truck bed.
    The commissioners endorsed the plan and the budget advisory committee will hear the proposal at their next meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m.
    In other action taken at last week’s meeting, commissioners approved 2.25-percent wage increases for the county’s non-union employees starting next year.
    Lizotte explained that the proposed budget already includes a 2-percent wage increase for the unionized staff in the sheriff’s department such as patrol deputies and corrections officers. The three administrators – Kane, Communications Director Dave Roberts and Jail Administrator Dave Harmon – will receive increases equivalent to 2.25 percent, Lizotte said.
    The interim county manager said that the initial 2015 budget is about $5,000 less than the current one “but that doesn’t include these raises or the sheriff’s department vehicle replacement program.”
    Baiamonte said that the new salary package may cost around $20,000 per year. But Lizotte suggested that commissioners may want to scale back the county manager’s position to “less than the salary level we have now” to offset part of the increase. Former county manager Marilyn Tourtelotte was making approximately $67,000 annually.
    The next regularly-scheduled county commissioners’ meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 18 at 8:30 a.m.

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