Sheriff John Mark Tirey told Walker County Commissioners on Tuesday that he has spent the past several weeks scouring the budget for approximately $10,000 that can cover those costs until a new budget takes effect.
“Now that’s not going to include serious engine jobs and all of that. It won’t be very much more than oil and flats,” Tirey said.
Tirey said he is concerned that the department’s vehicles are not currently being serviced properly. A few vehicles have had to be taken off the streets because they are not in working order.
District 2 Commissioner Dan Wright said several deputies have contacted him about bringing their cars to his district shop for much needed repairs. By law, he can furnish the labor but not the parts.
“(Deputy) Gary Knight’s car came in with the brakes so bad that he was using the emergency brake to get it to the shop because one side of the front rotors was paper thin. The air conditioner didn’t work. The cooling fans were not working, and it had a relay switch that was out,” Wright said.
District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt asked how the vehicle got into such a shape.
“I don’t understand why deputies are running cars down the road out of brakes, no air conditioner, the belt is going out and sliding into the shop to be fixed. Missing routine maintenance doesn’t get us to the point that the cars are falling apart,” Aderholt said.
Tirey said most maintenance on the fleet stopped approximately two months ago. Several deputies in the audience said that there are eight patrol cars that need immediate attention.
Chairman Billy Luster suggested creating a centralized garage where mechanics already employed by the county can perform simple maintenance and repairs.
Luster added that the move could both save the county money and give sheriff’s deputies peace of mind.
“I have experience as a deputy. I know when you are speeding down the road at 85 miles an hour trying to answer a call somewhere or get somebody to stop, you don’t want to have to worry about whether your car is going to make it through it or not,” Luster said.
District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis expressed support for the idea.
“When I went through the bills for the past several years where a deputy has taken a vehicle in, a lot of them had the general statement ‘deputy hears knocking sound.’ There were so many of those that it caught my attention. A centralized location would be a way to keep a little better handle on what is being taken in for repair and which repairs are needed or not needed,” Davis said.
According to a budget work sheet circulated during Tuesday’s work session, the sheriff’s department is expected to go over budget by $70,000 on fuels, oils and lubricants this year.
Luster recommended switching from premium to regular fuel.
“According to the research I did on the Internet, most of these cars are Flex-fuel cars. This year alone, we could have saved $6,419 so far if we had gone to regular fuel on a county-wide basis. That would make a lot of difference when you are already at 100 percent on fuel. So, it’s something to consider,” he said.
Aderholt said cutting out the miles that are accrued by the aging fleet when deputies drive may also benefit the county.
Deputy Ray Capps said having the cars at home allows officers to answer calls more quickly and keeps overtime down.
“It’s an asset to the county for us to be available because we’re already close to the call when we get it versus the timeframe when we are short-handed of having to come get a car and then turn around and go back,” Capps said.
Tirey added that having a sheriff’s car visible in a community also helps deter crime.
“I’m not against deputies taking cars home ... but if we have to park police cars and cut everything back just to be able to pay the bills, then it is not going to benefit anybody,” Aderholt said.
Davis also questioned the department’s overtime, which is expected to go over budget by more than $37,000 this year. Specifically, Davis said some employees have turned in the same amount of overtime each pay period for several years.
Tirey offered no explanation but said he has cut back hours where he could and added that some deputies are choosing compensatory time off rather than time and a half pay.