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Home  |  News  |  Safety of aging patrol fleet concerns sheriff

Safety of aging patrol fleet concerns sheriff
Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Orangeburg County is planning to buy 20 new cars for deputies in the coming budget year, but the sheriff has indicated the need is much greater.

"We are in bad shape," Sheriff Leroy Ravenell said. "We're scraping the bottom of the barrel."

As Orangeburg County Council wrestled with state cuts in budget hearings last week, it also had to confront the fact that it has an aging fleet of patrol vehicles.

The Sheriff's Office has a total of 143 vehicles, with 32 of those being marked patrol vehicles with more than 125,000 miles, County Administrator Bill Clark said.

A partial fleet inventory provided to The Times and Democrat under a S.C. Freedom of Information Act request shows 61 vehicles with more than 100,000 miles. The list did not include entries the county said could identify undercover vehicles or officers.

Ravenell said the vehicle situation has deteriorated, especially for road patrol units, because the county has purchased only 13 vehicles in the last three years. In 2007, the county purchased 41 vehicles.

"My main concern is liability," Ravenell said. "I am trying to protect the county. An emergency vehicle with 185,000 miles is a potential liability. We are breaking down a lot.

"At some point, we are putting dollars before safety."

Deputy County Administrator for Public Services Earl Whalen said routine and situational maintenance is provided by the county shop. He noted specialized work is outsourced.

Clark said the county has spent $150,000 repairing vehicles during the current budget year.

Ravenell had requested 88 vehicles in the new budget that begins July 1. He said even that number is "scaled down."

"We are at a point now with vehicles that you can't prioritize because everything is the same way," Ravenell said. "It's just that simple. That's how we came up with that number."

He said, "109 vehicles currently meet or exceed the county schedule for vehicle replacement. What we are asking for is what we need, not what we want."

The 20 new vehicles will be financed from a general obligation bond issued in 2008. Clark said the $540,000 purchase won't affect taxes.

During their budget discussions, County Council discussed the possibility of following a 2006 state vehicle replacement policy with adjustments to allow for higher mileage and age, subject to county appropriations. The state policy recommends replacing police sedans every 125,000 miles or 48 months.

Orangeburg County Councilman Heyward Livingston said he couldn't support purchasing 32 patrol cars during what will be a tight budget year.

"I understand that our infrastructure is getting behind in this economy," Livingston said. "If it is feasible, I will go along with replacing a few of them this year.

"I'm not in favor of getting rid of anything less than 150,000 miles."

Councilman Clyde Living-ston proposed securing an existing study on industry standards for marked patrol vehicles and using it to eval-uate the sheriff's fleet.

"We have limited resources and a perceived safety problem with these vehicles," Livingston said. "Making a political decision is not the way to solve this."

Source: http://www.thetandd.com/news/article_1544aeaa-94b8-11e0-9e60-001cc4c002e0.html

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