Board of commissioners look at county vehicle policy
Concerns expressed over travel out of county
LAKE COUNTY - The Lake County Board of Commissioners will be looking at possible changes to the county vehicle use policy.
Commissioner Karl Walls told the board at its Oct. 14 meeting that he would like to see the item placed back on the agenda for discussion and action.
"I want to revisit the discussion that we had prior to the COIVD-19 pandemic," Walls said. "It is difficult to have this discussion when we are not in person, but I think it is something we need to talk about."
Walls said he would like to see the board adopt a clear and concise policy on the use of county vehicles and bring it to the board for a vote.
"Most people have their minds made up whether they want to do this or not, but I think we need to reach out to the sheriff and undersheriff to give their final arguments and give the commissioners an opportunity to think about it, then bring it to a vote so that going forward everybody is on the same page," he said.
"There are two issues here," Walls added. "One is whether we should allow county-owned vehicles strictly within the county, or outside the county. The other is that we should have a clear and concise, and enforceable policy."
Walls suggested the county administrator work in conjunction with the sheriff's department to develop a policy that conveys exactly what the board voted on and as precisely as possible what the board's intentions are with respect to the policy.
Commissioner Robert Sanders said he believed the sheriff's department was responsible for setting their own policy for their department.
"I get that we are the check and balance, but if an elected official sets a policy, are we required to approve that?" Sanders questioned.
"It is our responsibility to go over the policies of the sheriff, or the clerk, or whoever and determine if we are on board with what they are doing," Walls said. "If we just say elected officials can do that, we have a bunch of elected officials and they could make up a rule that says they are going to provide cars for all of their employees, then it falls back on the commissioners to buy cars for everybody. That's big expense."
"It's a huge benefit and a huge perk, and we just gave that away," he added. "We didn't negotiate that clearly and there is the potential for any elected official to let an employee take a county owned vehicle back and forth to work. That is not our intention and we need to make that clear and put it on paper. Then the department heads and elected officials need to understand what the policy is and follow it."
County Administrator Tobi Lake said the board has a vehicle policy in place, but board members were concerned about how far the sheriff's vehicles were going outside of the county. In addition, he said there was concern that the sheriff's department may be allowing the jail administrator and corrections officers to take county vehicles home.
"That is not what is in the policy," Lake said. "The sheriff may have a different travel policy and it may be more restrictive or it may be looser. We talked earlier that maybe the board should set a policy county wide for all of the people that are going to be driving county vehicles."
"When the sheriff was elected, there was an understanding that the vehicles would not leave the county to be taken home, and that the sheriff would not get to take a vehicle home," Lake continued. "Six months later, we find out this is happening, so we talked about developing a policy."
"If it is the will of the board to let the deputies drive the cars home, we need to be specific," Walls added. "Can they drive to Grand Rapids, can they drive it 25 miles out?"
Sanders said it was his understanding that a mileage limit of 25 miles from the county boundary was put into place.
"We have to keep in mind the public safety aspect, too," Sanders said. "It's a balance. If we have an incident where we have to have a response from the county, they need to be able to get there, so we need to keep that in mind when we have these discussions. We need to be fair about looking at the pros and cons of the issue."
Commissioner Dawn Martin said the procedures manual clearly states that the only ones allowed to take vehicles home are deputies and animal control.
"It makes sense that animal control would take it home, because they get calls at all hours of the night, so that is something we need to consider, as well," Martin said.
Commissioner Betty Dermeyer commented that most of the deputies' vehicles are racking up a lot of miles and questioned if that was because they are going out of the county.
Chief Deputy Chad Hurrle said that is not the reason for the high mileage.
"The vehicles are getting utilized here in the county going from call to call," Hurrle said. "We only have two or three cars on a shift, and we are getting a large amount of calls. We may get a call from Irons, then have to go back to Chase, or to Star Lake, and the back to Luther. It wouldn't be unusual to put 200 miles on in a shift."
Commission Chairman Howard Ludholtz said they would get together with board members, personnel, committee chairs and the sheriff's department to discuss the issue and bring something back to the board at a future meeting.
In other business, the board approved the purchase of a 2021 Ford Explorer Interceptor and equipment installation at a cost of $53,600, with funds to come from CARES grant funding to road patrol in the amount of $135,000.
Dermeyer questioned why it was necessary for the sheriff's department to purchase another new vehicle when they had previously been approved to purchase three additional vehicles.
Hurrle said the vehicle to be replaced has 120,000 miles on it and is burning five to six quarts of oil between oil changes.
"It is not long for this world, so we want to get it replaced before it ends up costing us thousands in repairs," Hurrle said.
Some council members expressed reservation at approving an expenditure before the funding was available.
"Should we approve it contingent upon receiving those funds and revisit it once we receive the funds," Walls asked.
Lake said the $135,000 had been distributed, but not yet approved by the state, but that it would not be an issue because the road patrol fund had plenty of money in its fund balance to cover the expenditure, if necessary.
"If we didn't have this grant, we would be in discussions about using the fund balance," Lake said. "They have a vehicle that is using a lot of oil and they don't think it will last much longer. I'm okay with moving forward with it. They have plenty of money in their fund balance to cover this, if needed."
Ludholtz said it is the road patrols money, and it is not coming out of the general fund, so he did not see an issue.
"I understand where the money is coming from and that it is not coming from the county," Dermeyer said. "But I think things could be thought out a little better. I think four cars a year is a lot."
Martin added that in 2017, the fleet contained two non-pursuit rated vehicles and several others were two-wheel drive and were falling apart.
"We know money was not properly being spent to maintain those vehicles," Martin said. "The fleet has since been all updated and are now all pursuit rated. They are not spending recklessly. They have been able to integrate officer training and other things that are important to this community, so the board needs to keep those things in mind when they are making decisions."
Generally, we try to purchase two or three new vehicles a year, Lake said, but this one is needing replaced due to it burning oil.
The board is set to meet next at 9:30 a.m. Oct. 28 at the Lake County Courthouse, 800 Tenth Avenue in Baldwin.
For information on how to access the meeting remotely visit lakecounty-michigan.com or call (231) 745-2725.