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Vehicles outnumber deputies 3-to-1
Saline County JPs to vote on auctioning off extra sheriff’s cars
BY RODNEY BOWERS ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTEBENTON
— Saline County Quorum Court members say they are puzzled as to why their county has nearly three times as many patrol cars as it has sheriff’s deputies.
As a result, J.R. Walters, a justice of the peace from Alexander, has introduced a resolution calling for a reduction in the size of the sheriff’s fleet. It will be considered for a vote at tonight’s Quorum Court meeting.
"We don’t know how many cars we have," Walters admitted in a recent interview. "One time it’s 72. Another time it’s 80 and another, 60."
Whatever the number, it’s far too many for the department’s 22 deputies, he said.
The resolution would reduce the fleet to 50 and authorize the county judge to sell the surplus vehicles.
Walters said Quorum Court member Penny Kemp, a Republican from Shannon Hills, recently surveyed four similarsized counties — Craighead, Jefferson, Faulkner and Garland. "One sheriff has 55 [cars]," he said. "The rest have fewer."
Jefferson County, which has 55 patrol cars, has 34 investigators and patrolmen, he said. Garland County has 50 cars for its 40 investigators and patrolmen, while Faulkner County has 48 cars for 23 officers. Craighead County has 35 cars for 19 officers, he said. A spokesman for the Saline County judge’s office, which administers county finances, said the sheriff has 68 patrol cars, the oldest of which is a 1995 model. The spokesman said eight cars are assigned to reserve deputies.
Sheriff Phil Mask, a Republican, has been unavailable for comment for nearly a month after recently undergoing heart surgery. His chief deputy, Bill Field, also has been unavailable for comment and failed to return telephone messages left with his office.
Fuel records, however, show that only 44 sheriff’s cars were on Saline County roads the week of Oct. 6-12. Odometer readings for those vehicles ranged from 174,000 miles on a 1999 model to 12,000 for a 2003. The average odometer reading was just below 94,000 miles.
The sheriff ’s office has by far the most vehicles of any Saline County department. Three others — roads, maintenance and emergency services — have a total of 14 vehicles, according to the county judge’s office.
Walters said he is concerned about upkeep and insurance for nonessential sheriff’s vehicles, some of which are parked and have not been moved for months.
The county judge’s office said most repair work is done inhouse ; major repairs are contracted outside the department. The sheriff’s office spent $88,500 last year maintaining its vehicles, four of which were listed as scrapped or as spares, according to county records.
A spokesman in the county judge’s office said it was unknown how much money could be saved by selling surplus vehicles, but that a minimum of $5,076 a year could be saved in insurance premiums on the basis of the current rate of $282 per vehicle.
Saline County Judge Lanny Fite said revenue from the auction of surplus vehicles would go back into the county general operating fund. But, he said of aged patrol cars with extended mileage, "they usually don’t bring much money at all," usually only a few hundred dollars apiece.
Walters predicted passage of his resolution, noting that it already has received support from the Quorum Court Finance and Personnel Committee.