COVINGTON — Newton County is working on a plan that will upgrade the aging patrol fleet of the Newton County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Ezell Brown spoke to commissioners at their March 16 meeting, pointing out that most of his deputies are driving vehicles with high mileage — 27 vehicles have nearly 200,000 miles, 49 have between 200,000 and 300,000 miles, and nine have between 300,000 and 400,000 miles. Another 60 are just under the threshold of 150,000 miles.
“Each year we come before the board and we ask for vehicles,” said Brown. “When we ask for vehicles, we generally get six in the course of that year. Getting six, if you look at where we are today, it would take almost 30 years to replenish the fleet. That is the reason we are behind the 8 ball as it relates to vehicles. It’s sad, but in my Investigative Division, if someone has to travel to another state, they either have to borrow my car or we have to seek out a vehicle we feel is road-worthy to make it to that destination.”
Brown added that the current condition of the fleet has a negative effect on staffing and morale. In addition, he said the NCSO spends more than $300,000 per year on maintenance just to keep the vehicles operating.
Brown said the department needs at least 25 new vehicles to get the fleet out of the “danger zone.” He said a fully-equipped Dodge Charger costs about $26,800 — or $670,000 for 25 cars.
County Manager Lloyd Kerr said county does not currently have the funds to purchase 25 new vehicles; however, he said there is enough money remaining in the Sheriff’s Office budget, along with $134,000 in capital funds, to purchase eight Dodge Chargers.
In addition, Kerr said the county anticipates $200,000 in surplus collections of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds that will be available in six to eight months that could go toward and additional seven vehicle purchases.
Kerr said he did not see any room in the current budget to make additional vehicle purchases and suggested that commissioners plan in the next budget cycle to incorporate more funding for vehicles.
“We can go ahead with purchasing the eight immediatly and another seven in six months, and then work as many as possible into the upcoming budget,” said Kerr.
“We just don’t have that kind of money just sitting around somewhere unless we dip into our reserve, and I do not recommend that we do that,” added Kerr. “Once you start, we never stop, and we need that reserve in the event of an emergency situation.”
Even with planning ahead, Kerr said trying to budget 25 new vehicle purchases a year is a tall order.
“That’s a lot of money… if we can budget $300,000 like we did this year, and then we just need another $300,000 … I think we can figure out a way to do that and get us as close as possible.”
All five commissioners voiced support for upgrading the Sheriff’s Office fleet. District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Cowan, who once worked as an officer for the Covington Police Department, said equipment is critical to an officer’s job performance.
“Law enforcement people will put up with bad pay; they’ll put up with bad benefits, bad working hours, but a motor vehicle and equipment is critical to morale. It really is,” he said. “You can’t expect these law enforcement people to ride around in junk.”