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The majority of Little Rock's automobile fleet has surpassed its useful life, and the city needs to come up with a comprehensive plan to replace the vehicles, an out-of-town consultant told police officers and city board members Thursday.

Wade Steen, an Ohio-based private accountant, delivered his findings after reviewing the finances and practices of the city's Fleet Services Department for four members of the Little Rock Board of Directors on Thursday. The local police union -- the Little Rock Fraternal Order of Police -- paid Steen $18,000 to audit the fleet department.

Steen's report lists what he calls inefficiencies and bad practices that could be changed to save the city money.

More than 80 percent of the city's vehicles and equipment should be replaced, according to the city's own standards, Steen said.

Police officers in attendance Thursday spoke of driving cars with more than 200,000 miles on them or vehicles that don't have working air conditioners. Even more officers have sounded off in past weeks on the Fraternal Order of Police's Facebook page.

"Police deserve to feel safe in their work space," union President Jarred McCauley said. "I'm not trying to be overly dramatic, but if you're driving in one of these death traps, you'll know what I mean. I don't want one of my members to have to die" before the city comes up with a plan to replace vehicles.

Steen met with City Directors Kathy Webb and Doris Wright individually during the day Thursday. A public meeting with City Directors Lance Hines and Joan Adcock and the media took place that night.

Hines said the report made him realize there are some inefficiencies, such as having five employees staff the city's parts department. Larger vehicle service companies in Little Rock can service a lot more vehicles with fewer employees, he said.

The city has about 1,000 vehicles and another 500 pieces of equipment that it services in its fleet department. Director of Fleet Services Wendell Jones said the department completed 13,000 work orders last year.

Jones and other nonelected city staff members were not invited to Thursday's meeting.

Officer Matt Murski pointed out at the meeting that almost one-third of his downtown patrol division cars were out of service Monday. That's nine of 31 cars. And 22 of the 31 cars have more than 100,000 miles on them. The oldest has 231,701 miles on it.

FBI standards say to replace vehicles after 80,000 miles, but most cities replace them after 90,000 to 100,000 miles, Steen said.

The city has been spending at least $1.6 million a year on vehicle purchases since 2012, after the 1 percent sales tax increase was approved by voters the previous year. Since the tax, the city has bought 209 vehicles or equipment that has to be serviced by the Fleet Services Department. Among them are trailers or lawn mowers, and 133 of them are for the Police Department.

Jones pointed out in an email to the Democrat-Gazette that the city has been on the 100 Best Fleets of North America list sponsored by the National Association of Fleet Administrators and on the Leading Fleet list sponsored by Government Fleet magazine.

Steen wrote in his report that some of Little Rock's practices are not what he sees in other cities.

"This report is not an answer to the city's problems in any way, shape or form, and it wasn't meant to be a 'gotcha!' to anyone," Steen said Thursday. "But, what it is is it could be a start in the right direction to fix some problems. There are operational inefficiencies that can yield monetary gain."

When asked by Hines how much the city could save by replacing some of the outdated vehicles, Steen said he hadn't run those numbers. He told Hines that he would calculate how much it would cost to maintain a new vehicle and compare it with what it has been costing on average to service the vehicles that are beyond their useful lives.

The Fraternal Order of Police has yet to share the report's results with nonelected city officials. The group first shared the report with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette last month. McCauley told city board members Thursday that he wanted them to hear the findings before showing them to City Manager Bruce Moore.

"We are essentially coming before you guys to ask for a comprehensive plan that fixes this. We know it can't be done overnight, but it has to be done," McCauley told Hines and Adcock.

Metro on 09/04/2015

Print Headline: LR police, directors learn fleet is over hill

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