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Council: How many do we buy?

Princeton looks at replacing several police vehicles

PRINCETON — The Princeton City Council is debating the practicality of buying eight new vehicles, including two pick-ups, for the Princeton Police Department.

At Monday’s meeting, the council had a first reading of the proposed 2014-15 fiscal year budget, which shows a purchase of four cars, two SUVs and two Dodge four-wheel drive pick-up trucks for the police department from Prescott Brothers in Princeton. The new vehicles would replace seven cars and one SUV, which would be used as trade-ins.

Originally, the proposed budget had called for a purchase of nine vehicles, but the number has been scaled back to eight. The vehicles to be replaced include a 2000 model, two 2005 models, a 2007, a 2009, with the rest being 2011 models.

Commissioner Joel Quiram said he’s concerned about the appearance of the city buying eight vehicles in one year, rather than just replacing three or four a year. Spending that much money in one year when there are other needs, like streets, is a concern. He also questioned the need for pick-up trucks.

When asked for his input, Police Chief Tom Root said the primary reason for the pick-up trucks are their four-wheel drive capability, which would be good to have especially in winters like this last one. The pick-ups would be used for the department’s two canine unit inserts, which are currently put in an SUV and regular car. Also, there are times when officers have to pick up larger things, like bicycles and motorcycles, and pick-ups would be much better for that. The city is also a first responder for interstate accidents, which can be difficult in winters, he said.

As far as replacing eight vehicles in one year, he is relying heavily on input from the city’s mechanic, who has said the vehicles are all in bad shape, Root said. An average of 30,000-40,000 miles is put on the vehicles each year, primarily with in-town driving. If the eight new vehicles are purchased, he could get the vehicles back in a rotation for replacement, starting in probably three years. The pickups would last longer because they will be used only as canine units. As far as cost, the pick-ups actually cost less than SUVs, Root said.

Detailing the costs of the proposed vehicles, Princeton City Manager Jeff Clawson said the pick-ups will cost about $24,500 each. The SUVs are in the $26,500-$27,500 range. The cars are in the $28,200-$29,200 range.

The purchase would be financed throughout the next three years, Clawson said. The bottom line is the cost was attractive with the city’s trade-ins. He’s not usually an advocate of replacing so many vehicles at one time, but in this case, the police department has not gotten new vehicles in quite a while, he said.

Mayor Keith Cain said he still questions the need for pick-up trucks. He’d rather see SUVs than pick-ups.

Commissioner Ray Swanson said it was a hard pill to swallow when he first heard the recommendation to replace eight or nine vehicles, but he does think the city should follow the recommendation of the city’s mechanic who takes care of the vehicles and has said the vehicles need to be replaced.

In his comments, Commissioner Ray Mabry said he’s heard from residents who are concerned about spending the money for eight vehicles when there are needed street projects to be accomplished, but he does understand that safety of the officers is the No. 1 issue.

The city is in this position, of needing to replace so many vehicles, because the city has put off trade-ins for several years, Commissioner Bob Warren said. Though he doesn’t totally disagree with the concerns expressed, it’s rare that things will get any cheaper in coming years, he added.

After further discussion, the council approved the first reading of the proposed budget and moved it forward to a second reading at its April 21 meeting. The new budget needs to be in place by the start of the new fiscal year, May 1.

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