Erie County Executive Chris Collins has a plan to save money: Trade in Sheriff's Office patrol cars every year to capitalize on their high value and minimize the repair costs that soar as cruisers approach 200,000 miles.
But if Collins expects that the program will save money, why does he need millions of dollars from the county's state-appointed control board to set the wheels in motion?
"If you are going to save money, just do it," control board member Catherine Creighton told the Collins official dispatched to sell the idea Tuesday, Public Works Commissioner Gerard J. Sentz. His highway trucks would be turned over every two years as part of the initiative.
Sentz told the Fiscal Stability Authority that the Collins team would like to start by replacing 26 of the sheriff's Ford Crown Victorias with Chevrolet Tahoes.
The following year, the year-old Tahoes would be traded in for 26 new ones, and the county would also buy an additional 26.
In the third year, the county would trade in the 52 purchased in the prior year for 52 more Tahoes, then buy 25 more. After that, the county would turn over the 77 police vehicles every year by trading them in, Sentz told the control board. The county could also sell the Tahoes through a website that auctions surplus vehicles.
The control board, created amid the county's financial crisis in 2005, has dispensed millions of taxpayer dollars passed along by Albany to start up projects that promote long-term efficiencies in Erie County. And the board has bought new county vehicles in the past when convinced that the old ones were outdated.
The Collins team asked for $2.6 million over two years to finance its patrol car initiative but would settle for the $1.2 million in the efficiency-grant pool -- money committed to another idea but never spent.
Erie County deputies put about 90,000 miles a year on their patrol cars. For the most part, the Sheriff's Office has run patrol cars for as long as they could be patched together, annoying the patrol force.
County officials expect that the Tahoes will depreciate by about $12,000 in the first year, according to documents given to the control board. But the officials predict that they would recover the control board's outlay over four years with better gas mileage and fewer repair needs, especially when considering that Ford has discontinued the Crown Victoria and that parts could become difficult to obtain.
The newest control board member, businessman Brian J. Lipke, said the idea had merit. But that's as far as the support went. The other members either wanted more information or wondered why Collins needed their seed money when the county has always bought patrol cars and highway trucks as a normal expense.
The members tabled the matter but told Sentz they would consider it again if the Collins administration took another stab at selling the idea. Otherwise, he would have to use the county's own resources.
The control board said that it would rather save the government money by arranging its next bridge loan, of about $90 million, so the county can pay its bills over the coming months.
With its excellent credit rating, the control board saves the county money when it arranges loans. But the County Legislature will not ask for the help until County Comptroller Mark C. Poloncarz determines how much it will cost to arrange the nine-month loan itself.