The county’s fleet consists of 750 on-road vehicles and 2,000 other pieces of equipment like construction equipment and riding lawn mowers.
NAPLES — Collier County officials began postponing replacements for vehicles in their fleet in 2009, resulting in county vehicles being used for a longer life.
But as revenue continues to fall and vehicles continue to age, some are questioning how long the county can delay purchasing new vehicles.
The fleet management department’s 2011-12 budget request already notes that longer life for vehicles could lead to higher maintenance costs over time and that repairs could become more frequent, leading to an increased repair time and a vehicle’s out-of-service time.
Dan Croft, the fleet management department director for county government, isn’t ready to sound the alarm just yet.
“Before we stopped replacing vehicles, we had built our fleet up,” he said. “We’re holding our own.”
Records in the proposed budget tell a somewhat different story.
Fleet management is expecting operating expenditures to increase by 23.78 percent as a result of higher costs for parts, sublets and fuel.
“This projection accounts for increasing parts requirements for an aging fleet after extending vehicle and equipment replacement cycles due to the economy,” according to the material presented in the budget book.
Croft said the almost 24 percent increase is due mostly to the department’s request for additional fuel money, should gas go up to $4.50 per gallon. Croft said this year he budgeted for $3 per gallon gas. The difference is an increase of more than $1.8 million over the current year’s budget.
The cost for parts is escalating, particularly in regard to the county’s heavy trucks and equipment, including transit buses and ambulances, and are expected to increase $86,400, according to the proposed budget. Sublet costs are forecast to increase by $63,200 above 2011 costs due to engine and transmission replacement requirements for three transit buses, according to the budget.
Croft said the county runs its buses to 500,000 miles. Once a bus hits 300,000 miles, he said, the county usually replaces an engine or a transmission to ensure it makes it to 500,000 miles.
“It’s a safety issue,” Naples Councilman Doug Finlay said. “How many more years can you delay? How many more years can you not buy ambulances? You can’t delay it forever.”
Naples Councilman Doug Finlay said the county is dealing with the same issues that the city of Naples deals with as property values decline. It is worse in county government, he said, where the revenue shortfall is greater.
“You hope for a recovery. It is going to take some time,” he said.
But Finlay said he is concerned about the county running vehicles like ambulances more than 250,000 miles, especially when some of those vehicles are used within the city limits.
“It’s a safety issue,” he said. “How many more years can you delay? How many more years can you not buy ambulances? You can’t delay it forever.”
Collier Commissioner Fred Coyle said commissioners have asked County Manager Leo Ochs to report on the fleet at a meeting in September.
“We expressed to him our concern about maintaining an effective fleet, particularly when it comes to our (emergency medical services) capabilities. Some of our ambulances are getting older and we want to make sure they are in top (shape),” he said.
That said, Coyle said the county has a program to ensure vehicles are properly maintained and he isn’t concerned about the fleet’s status.
“It is perfectly normal and expected that maintenance intervals in good economic times are likely to be shorter than maintenance issues in bad economic times,” he said. “We don’t buy a new car every three or four years if we don’t have the money to do it. We try to find the most cost-effective way to do it.”
The county’s fleet consists of 750 on-road vehicles and 2,000 other pieces of equipment like construction equipment and riding lawn mowers, according to Croft. The fleet management department’s costs don’t include Sheriff’s Office cars, he said.
Croft said before the tax base fell, the county would run cars 90,000 or 100,000 miles before replacing them. Today, they run longer with the help of preventative maintenance, he said.
Croft said it isn’t his intention to keep vehicles on the road when they aren’t safe or are too expensive to fix.
“If they get to the point it is not worth fixing them, we would do some replacements,” he said. “But I feel confident — at the rate we are going — it will be two or three more years before we will need to think about seriously replacing vehicles.”
Coyle said he isn’t concerned.
“I believe staff has a solution and we will do quite well,” he said.
Collier commissioners are expected to adopt their final 2011-12 budget in September.
__ Connect with Katherine Albers at www.naplesnews.com/staff/katherine-albers/