Wadena County staff say the current method of upgrading vehicles across the fleet is not working. Some commissioners are not yet convinced a leasing option is the right fix.
Wadena County Auditor Heather Olson and Chief Deputy Joe Schoon presented the county board with budgetary considerations for leasing vehicles, enforcing the fact that the current vehicle rotation leads to numerous inefficient and high maintenance vehicles with low trade-in value. Commissioner Jim Hofer expressed that vehicles tend to be the first item removed from the budgets when cuts are needed. This only compounds the problem as more vehicles age and more maintenance is required.
Schoon showed the group figures for the Wadena County Sheriff's Office, which showed the savings over the current plan by going with Enterprise would be about $138,000 over a six-year period. The Enterprise plan had a higher average vehicle budget, but it also showed a higher resale value, lower maintenance cost and lower fuel cost.
Schoon said the sheriff's office spent about $22,000 on vehicle maintenance in 2019 and about $26,000 another year, significantly higher than the cost associated with leasing.
Olson gave an example about a Crown Victoria that's been used as a spare vehicle for years. The vehicle gets about 11 miles per gallon and has very little resale value. It's kept around because if another old vehicle breaks down, this one comes in handy. Commissioners did not view the entire RFP from Enterprise as it was 90 pages long, according to Olson.
Olson expressed how the current model isn't working. The average vehicle mileage is 158,000, with one corrections vehicle nearing 260,000 miles. To replace the worst of the county's vehicles (22 included in that list) would cost $604,000, Olson said. Under the Enterprise agreement, the county could replace those 22 vehicles for about $90,000 in the first year.
Certain departments, like solid waste, do well with the hand-me-down vehicles, while the sheriff's department and highway departments rely more heavily on newer vehicles. Human Services would benefit from the lease program as their lease expense is reimbursable, commissioners learned.
"Other counties that have done this, I've heard nothing but good things," Hofer said of lease programs.
Commissioner Jon Kangas looked over the numbers and wasn't so sure the savings would be that much better by leasing. He suggested that the county could replace vehicles more often and realize a higher return on their investments, while seeing less maintenance costs, while owning their vehicles.
"I just don't think we're saving the money that is projected, I don't know how it's possible," Kangas said.
"Leasing costs more, but there is a convenience to it," Commissioner Bill Stearns said.
Commissioners approved a motion to send the plan back to the budget committee to reconsider the options. County staff began meeting with Enterprise in July 2019.