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$4.5 million needed to keep county fleet legal

June 14, 2012

Inyo County has been able to keep up on the maintenance of its fleet of vehicles to avoid costly replacements, but, with looming emissions regulations, many older pieces of Road Department equipment, like the one above, will have to be replaced by 2019. Photo by Mike Gervais

Local leaders met last week to discuss the county’s fleet of vehicles and what state-mandated emission regulations might mean for county-owned vehicles.
Through responsible use and careful maintenance, Inyo County has been able to maintain a large fleet of vehicles at minimal cost to the citizens. However, with state-mandated emissions regulations going into affect over the next few years, there are concerns that many older vehicles will need to be replaced or the county will face fines and fees for being out of compliance.
Inyo County Road Superintendent Bob Brown said Inyo County has more than 100 vehicles in its fleet (excluding Sheriff’s Department and Health and Human Services vehicles), ranging from relatively new to vehicles that were first purchased used, back in the 1960s.
Brown said the county’s maintenance staff has been diligent in keeping all equipment, especially the older pieces, in good working order, but, “the older equipment gets, the harder it is to get parts and the more frequently it needs repaired. Some of our equipment is more than 40 years old, and some, at least one, is 60 years old.”
In 2010-11, the county spent about $973,000 on its vehicles, including fuel, repairs, tires and labor for maintenance.
While that may sound like a huge chunk of change, Brown said it has been a manageable expense, until recent California Air Resource Board emission regulations were announced and it became apparent that some of the county’s older equipment will need to be replaced to avoid state fines for being out of compliance.
Brown said the county is currently in compliance with all CARB regulations, but stricter mandates will be put in place in 2015 and 2019, and if it wishes to stay in compliance, the county will be forced to begin making some tough decisions about how and when out-of-compliance vehicles will be replaced.
“The county is looking at $4.5 million to meet CARB requirements,” Brown said. “In the past we’ve used our budget to keep up on maintenance needs, but that’s not working out very well now, and could lead to” falling out of compliance with the state regulations.
Brown said he identified a couple of options for county leaders to consider, including a lease-to-own program for equipment that needs to be replaced, or entering into “long-term” debt to purchase the new vehicles. Brown also said some pieces of equipment that the county doesn’t often use could be surplused or sold, and if the need arises, a replacement could be rented at a much lower cost than purchasing it.
Of the county’s fleet, Brown said 45 vehicles are in compliance and will remain in compliance; 78 need to be replaced, and 17 he deemed “unnecessary” and could be removed from the motor pool.
Brown said it is currently unclear if the lease-to-own or long-term financing option would be most cost effective, because contract conditions for lease-to-own programs will likely change vehicle-to-vehicle. He also pointed out that, right now, interest rates are at a low, making the long-term debt option more viable.
Interim Public Works Director Doug Wilson said his department is planning an equipment audit in the next fiscal year that will give a schedule for replacement needs.
As a bonus, Brown said, when the county meets its CARB requirements, it will have a fleet of newer vehicles, and “having new equipment will reduce maintenance costs dramatically.”
“$4.5 million is overwhelming, but we have seven years to go, so we have to start planning now,” Second District Supervisor Susan Cash said.
“To me, it’s overwhelming now,” Brown said.

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