City budgets six to seven new squads for 2016-17

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[April 22, 2016]  LINCOLN - On Tuesday, April 26th, the city of Lincoln will hold a public hearing regarding the budget for the new fiscal year beginning May 1, 2016. The city of Lincoln operates on a fiscal year from May 1st to April 30, and the budget needs to be passed before the first day of the new fiscal year.

This year, the budget review for Lincoln aldermen took place in two night meetings held on March 17th and 30th.

At the first meeting, city department heads spoke about their budgets for the coming year. There were not a lot of surprises in the budget. There is always need to replace aging equipment, and department heads spoke about what they needed and what it would mean for the budget.

Among those to talk on this topic were Lincoln Police Chief Paul Adams, and Deputy Chief Matt Vlahovich. Adams started the conversation, talking about the need to be a little more aggressive in the city's adopted plan to replace squad cars. He offered a solution that would still equal a turnover of two vehicles every year, but he asked to do it in three-year terms.

The city had originally adopted a plan to replace two squads each year. With 24 cars in the department, this meant that all vehicles would eventually cycle out every 12 years. However, serious money issues over the past few years, since 2008, has prevented the city from completely following through with that plan. Therefore, the police department now has vehicles that are exceeding 12 years old, the oldest one being a 2002, which is now 14 years old.

Adams said that in considering the squads, safety is a big issue. He said as the vehicles get older, the safety aspect decreases. He said there were several vehicles on the force with over 100,000 miles and are eating up the annual budget in maintenance.

He said the city has three 2004 Crown Victoria’s with over 100,000 miles, one 2002 that is over 100,000, several 2005 models and one 2006 model that is well over 100,000 miles.

Chief Adams also pointed out that some of these vehicles were purchased before the “fleet days.” He explained that in those days, one car was on the road 24-hours a day, and the thing that changed was the officer behind the wheel. Over time the city has worked into a position where that the officers have individual cars, and the vehicles are only on the road during the normal shift of the officer.

Because the department has this larger number of older, well-used vehicles, the chief was asking to replace six vehicles in the next fiscal year. Adams said he would ask that the city does a lease of six cars. He said that with the fleet leasing, it should lower the payments on the whole, perhaps even enough to add a seventh vehicle to the mix.

Deputy Chief Vlahovich spoke about the deals that he has found. He began noting that last year the city had purchased two Dodge Durangos. With the purchase of the vehicles and the equipment cost for gearing them up for police work, the city spent a total of $79,388.

Vlahovich said he had received a flyer from an out of state Dodge dealership with special offers for Ram trucks and Dodge Durangos. Vlahovich said that the department would like to purchase four Durangos and two trucks. He noted that technology and design for the pick-up trucks have come a long way, and trucks are nearly as efficient to operate as a car.

Vlahovich said the department’s request for the Durango’s and trucks would equal a total investment of $195,757, which if spread over a three-year lease would be $65,252 per year. He noted this would be a $14,000 decrease over what was spent last year on two Durango’s.

Vlahovich said that he had also searched out a better price for the outfitting of each vehicle, which would involve equipping the vehicles for police work. He said that to equip all seven vehicles would cost an additional $25,694, but that the price per vehicle for the equipment was about half the cost of what was spent last year.

He told the council that in looking into this, he took the information from the out of state Dodge Dealer to the Lincoln Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram in Lincoln, and that dealership said it would match the deal on the vehicle lease. He said the interest rate quoted on the vehicles was 5.14 percent, but Vlahovich said he could do better, and thought the city could get a lease with an interest rate around 2 to 2.5 percent. He added that at the end of the lease agreement, the vehicles could then be purchased with one dollar per vehicle.

He said that a lot of the equipment that is in the trade-in vehicles could be swapped into the new squads, so that too would save money.

Todd Mourning asked if these were stock vehicles that anyone could purchase. Vlahovich said, no. They are special police service vehicles that come with spots (lights), special wiring, and some of the other lighting specific to police vehicles.

Mayor Marty Neitzel asked about two-door or four-door. Vlahovich said all vehicles would be a four-door. Neitzel also asked about four-wheel-drive. Vlahovich said, all would be four-wheel-drive. He noted that if an officer needs that option just one time, it has paid for itself.

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Steve Parrott asked about the maintenance cost of the trucks.

Vlahovich said the department has one truck now with 30,000 miles on it, and nothing has had to be done to it to date.

Parrott and Neitzel also wondered about mileage on trucks versus cars. Vlahovich said that mileage is greatly improved on the trucks of today, but, yes, a car would get better mileage.

Mourning asked if the vehicles would come with factory warranties, and Vlahovich said they would.

Adams commented on the value of the higher-profile vehicles saying that it put the vehicle above most water lines and snow lines compared to a car.

Michelle Bauer asked if these would be marked police vehicles?

Adams and Vlahovich said that they would.

Jonie Tibbs stated that she didn’t think the city could afford to send its police officers out in older, unreliable vehicles. She supported making this trade and added that there should be a fund set up within the city to allow continual upgrading of vehicles, not just for the police, but also for the fire department and street department.

Bauer noted that the city had decided to create such a fund last year.

Johnson said they had, but it had not officially been started yet. However, he said that is going to be a concrete plan starting in 2016-17.

Parrott asked about the thought or logic behind adding two trucks versus all Durango’s.

Vlahovich said that the department would like to have one truck per shift, and adding two trucks to the one already owned would accomplish this. In addition, he said that the deal at hand offers the trucks at about $2,000 less than the Durango’s.

Tracy Welch asked if this lease expenditure was in the budget before the council, and if so, where?

Johnson said it was not currently in the budget draft. He noted that he had given Chief Adams “gloom and doom” about doing this, but in reality, he thought it could be done. He said the work yet to be done, is to achieve the best interest rate possible on the lease. He said the State Bank of Lincoln had been contacted, and they would offer to finance at a 2.75 percent interest rate. Johnson said there were other options out there as well, so he and the chief needed to do some more research.

Hoefle supported the plan to do three-year terms and trade off more vehicles at one time. He said he saw this as the way to go.

Vlahovich also noted that the department now has a program wherein one officer is assigned one car, and he or she is the only one who drives the vehicle.

Welch noted that the new cars would equal fuel and maintenance savings, and he also commented that it was good that each officer has a vehicle. He said that should promote a sense of pride and ownership that would equal taking better care of the vehicle in general.

At the March 30th budget meeting, Johnson said that if the council wanted to move forward with the vehicle lease plan, it could be fit into the budget. He estimated that in the first year the expenditure for the payment and interest of the vehicles plus the cost of equipping the vehicles for police service would come to between $95 and $97 thousand.

He said he was still shopping for a good interest rate, but wanted to confirm the council approves. He noted that all appeared in favor of the plan at the last budget meeting. At the March 30th meeting, it also appeared that all the aldermen were in favor of the plan, so Johnson said he would move forward with making it so.

Though the vehicle leases will now be part of the budget, the council will approve, by majority vote the final details prior to the leases being activated.

[Nila Smith]

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