Sheriff’s Office exploring ‘aggressive’ plan to refresh aging vehicle fleet

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(Editor’s note: The story was updated Oct. 18 according to cost and other clarifications provided by Undersheriff Brian Griffeth.)

The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office is exploring an “aggressive” plan to modernize its vehicle fleet, Undersheriff Brian Griffeth told the County Commission on Oct. 10.

“We have zero [vehicle] resources in case anything breaks down,” Griffeth told the commissioners.

Griffeth outlined “the good, the bad, the ugly” of the fleet, in which the average age of its 20 vehicles is eight years — six are older than 10 years — and the average mileage 190,000.

Of those 20 vehicles, three are “currently inoperable or unsafe,” and “all of the jail transport vehicles are mechanically unsound and are not able to be used for transports outside of the county,” according to Griffeth’s presentation.

Griffeth pointed out that detention vehicles have broken down while transporting inmates to Kalispell and Sandpoint.

Following the previous replacement practice of replacing two vehicles a year — a practice “not prudent in order to meet and maintain proper capital improvement” — “vehicles are being driven well past their usefulness, thus creating a fleet with high mileage and high maintenance cost,” his presentation states.

“Twenty [operable vehicles] is where we want to be,” Griffeth said.

Griffeth said the Sheriff’s Office is proposing two steps to take. The first is buying up to 10 vehicles, plus a new jail transport van, and trading, selling off or reassigning older vehicles. The second is forming a new capital improvement plan and budgeting for replacing vehicles “in a more manageable time frame.”

“Let’s get caught up and then build a better plan,” Griffeth said.

Griffeth also presented a $500,000 lease-to-own financing quote from a program specializing in lending to local governments. The quote is for 10 SUVs and one van and outlines annual payment for three-, four- and five-year terms.

Griffeth said the proposal was not set in stone, but that his goal was to explore different ways than before of approaching a capital improvement plan.

Darren Short, who is running unopposed for Sheriff after winning the primary election against incumbent Roby Bowe, was present for the discussion, and after Griffeth’s presentation joined him in a discussion with the commissioners and County Administrator Darren Coldwell.

They covered a variety of related topics, including the need to seek financing quotes from local lenders and whether to explore purchasing Chevrolet Tahoes from a program administered by the State of Montana.

The current fleet is comprised mostly of Ford Expeditions and Ford Explorers — the former vehicles not currently available with sufficient “pursuit rating,” Short and Griffeth said, the latter with a less robust all-wheel-drive system and less ground clearance.

In his Oct. 17 email, Griffeth explained what they meant by pursuit rating.

“Pursuit-rated essentially means the vehicle can handle high speed maneuvers and braking,” wrote Griffeth. “It has a more aggressive braking and steering system. It requires rated tires for the vehicle as well. Our needs are a heavier-duty vehicle for the environment that we work and drive in.”

The Tahoes would cost about $36,500 to $38,000 before a full law-enforcement equipment “build-out,” compared to the roughly $40,000 the department spent on each of its two most recent Ford Expeditions.

“I was not suggesting that we purchase one over the other, I was merely making a comparison,” Griffeth wrote. “My only thoughts on this project are to one, modernize our fleet and two, be a good steward of the citizens’ monies by making sure that we are getting the most bang for the buck.”

Griffeth also noted that following the Oct. 10 discussion he sought and received a financing quote from a local lender at a lower interest rate than the quote he presented Oct. 10.

Griffeth’s presentation was for information only, so the commission had no items to vote on.

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