City of Kent places rush order on 22 new police SUVs to save money

A $66,000 savings on $1.3 million tab

Kent city leaders will submit a rush order next month to buy 22 new police SUVs – at a cost of $1.3 million – in order to save an estimated $3,000 per vehicle before costs go up.

Kent Police will use $930,000 from the city’s school zone traffic camera fund to purchase 15 vehicles ($62,000 each). The city will buy seven more SUVs from its fleet reserve fund, used annually to replace older city vehicles.

The purchases are part of the new car-per-officer, take-home program the City Council approved in May. That approval included buying 14 new vehicles at a cost of $868,000 earlier this year. Those cars are expected to arrive in the next month or two.

City staff estimates Kent will save a minimum of $66,000 by ordering vehicles this year rather than next year.

“The opportunity for us to save money – especially this amount of money – is good for the city going into the issues with our budget,” said Councilwoman Toni Troutner, chair of the Public Safety Committee, prior to a 2-0 vote Tuesday to recommend that the full council approve the proposal at its Aug. 21 meeting.

The council will approve the purchases next week as part of the consent calendar, a list of numerous items adopted with one vote because the issues are considered non-controversial and were approved unanimously by a committee.

In total, the council will have approved this year spending $2.2 million on new police vehicles. Nearly $1.8 million will come from the school zone traffic camera fund that tickets drivers going more than 20 mph. That fund will still have a balance of about $816,000 even after buying 29 police SUVs, according to City Finance Director Aaron BeMiller.

City Public Works staff told the Public Safety Committee that it needed to place the purchase order by Sept. 21 in order to save money. The city purchases the vehicles through the state Department of Enterprise Services Master Contract with Longview-based Columbia Ford. The city purchases cars through the state co-op to get better deals than trying to purchase vehicles directly from a dealership.

The dealership notified the city in July that 2019 orders for the Police Interceptor vehicle will end early due to redesign of the 2020 models and that orders need to made as soon as possible to have the best chance at getting the 2019 model at the current market price, according to city documents.

“We have been informed by the Ford government sales rep at Columbia Ford that the new 2020 Interceptor model redesign will increase the costs an estimated $3,000 per car,” said Ron Green, city Public Works fleet warehouse manager, to the Public Safety Committee.

Green said orders for the new cars typically can be made in January or February to buy later in the year. The city won’t actually spend the money until the SUVs are delivered next year.

“Even though we are ordering them early, you don’t pay for them until delivery so that payment isn’t made until like April,” Assistant Police Chief Derek Kammerzell said in an interview. “We are just ordering them ahead of time to save a bunch of money. And if we don’t order them, they will get backlogged (because of orders from other police agencies) and we will have to wait almost an extra year.”

City staff needed council approval to pre-order cars out of the 2019 fleet reserve fund. That fund started 2018 with a balance of $5.8 million and is expected to end the year with a balance of $3.1 million, BeMiller said. The funds are used for city vehicles that have reached the end of their useful life and each city department that uses vehicles pays a monthly fee to build up the reserves.

The school traffic camera fund brought in $1.2 million to the city in 2017 and produced revenues of $4.2 million during its first four years. The city began the program in January 2014 with two elementary schools, added two more schools in 2015 and will add two more this fall.

The new car-per-officer, take-home program is expected to save the city money in the long run with less wear and tear on the vehicles because just one officer will use the car. The department also will use the program as a recruiting tool as officers can use the vehicle to commute, although they cannot use the car for personal use such as trips to stores or family outings.

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