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32 police cars may cost city $728,958
Councilman says vehicle replacement program needed

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

Buying police cars through the bond market rather than instituting a replacement-vehicle program ensures the fleet will always have older cars to maintain, one city councilman said.

On Monday, the council discussed spending $728,958 on 32 marked and unmarked cars, with the majority of the proceeds coming from a $16.2 million general warrant Decatur sold last year to fund infrastructure and capital items.

The council could approve the purchase during its April 16 business meeting, but Councilman Gary Hammon, the council's liaison to the Police Department, said the city should replenish the fleet sooner.

'Selling-bond mindset'

"We should be setting aside $600,000 to $700,000 per year for leases, and then every five years turn those cars in so we never get stuck with 10-year-old cars anymore," Hammon said. "I'm trying to get us away from a selling-a-bond mindset for anything other than infrastructure."

Council President Billy Jackson agreed with Hammon on the replacement-vehicle issue, saying that is the council's goal.

"We should not have to do this in such a large quantity," Jackson said. "Is there room in the budget for it? Not necessarily, but it would be much easier to take smaller bites than one big gulp at the end."

Hammon said the replacement program could be in the budget if the city plans for it.

"What is the purpose of city government other than to pave roads, provide sewer, fire and police protection?" Hammon said. "The council has been fairly reasonable with its budget, but you want to put in a process to prevent this from happening. I'm not giving up on it, yet. We just bought 60 police cars, and we've still got 75 that are going to need replacing over the next few years."

Gail Busbey, the city's chief financial officer, said the cars will cost more than estimated.

"The bond money isn't sufficient to cover the amount discussed," Busbey said. "But there is sufficient funding in their (Police Department's) budget."

Busbey said the department would dip into its operating budget to cover the roughly $300,000 difference. The department is short its 130 employee-staffing level, Busbey said. The difference would come from money not used for payroll.

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