By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune staff writer
— For the first time in many years, the Howard County Sheriff Department is planning not to purchase any new patrol cars, saving the county $185,000.
Sheriff Marty Talbert said it appears the department won’t need to replace any vehicles this year. Typically the department purchases five or six cars per year.
He said a system of fleet management implemented in 2003 appears to be working. Talbert said the Indiana State Police issues a state trooper a car and another one is not purchased until it reaches 100,000 miles.
“When I came into office eight years ago, the vehicles were in bad shape,” Talbert said. “They were not being taken car of, and there was no way to determine who was responsible because the cars were being passed around.”
Under the new policy, a deputy is assigned a car, which remains in his care until it is decommissioned.
“There has been a benefit to the fleet management, and the regular inspections of all equipment have helped,” Talbert said. “It’s easier to maintain a vehicle on a regular basis.”
Dick Miller, president of the Howard County Council, said Talbert has brought a new philosophy in terms of the procurement of vehicles.
“The annual inspection and pride of ownership has made a difference,” Miller said.
Miller said past sheriffs have requested additional funds to purchase vehicles. He said by not spending the $185,000 this year, it has a direct impact on requests for other cumulative capital fund expenditures.
Talbert said the fleet management system works for the state police with 1,500 vehicles, and it is working for the county’s 35 patrol cars.
Talbert said with current economic conditions, the state police and Howard County are extending the usage of the vehicles to 125,000 miles.
The county recently approved the purchase of a flush-and-fill machine that changes the transmission fluid.
“The program has started to work,” he said. “I hope the next sheriff continues the program. It provides some accountability for the maintenance of the vehicles.”
Having a take-home car is a huge benefit for the deputies, Talbert said.
“The taxpayers have every right to expect those vehicles to be maintained,” he said.
Normally the Howard County Council has appropriated $185,000 in the cumulative capital fund for the purchase of cars for the department. The unused funds will be retained in the cumulative capital fund budget.
Talbert said he will request a similar appropriation for the 2011 budget.
“It’s unreasonable to expect the sheriff to go every year without buying vehicles,” he said.
Other cost saving measures include not transferring equipment, such as radios, light bars and computers, from one vehicle to another. Talbert said the equipment is installed one time and remains in a vehicle until it is traded-in on a new car.
Talbert said since taking office as sheriff, he received a new car during his second term.
“I have treated myself the same way as all the other deputies,” he said. “It used to be some members of the department got a new car every year. Everyone is assigned a single vehicle until it reaches the 100,000-mile mark.”