Mayor probes possible cost-saving ideas

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Should Elk River’s squad cars be kept longer to try to save a little money?
Mayor John Dietz raised the question during a city council work session April 11.
The city currently retires its Ford Crown Victoria squad cars at approximately three years and 100,000 miles, according to Finance Director Tim Simon. A city of Elk River survey of comparable cities found squad cars’ estimated life is an average of three years and 88,750 miles.
Dietz wondered about the possibility of starting with one squad car and keeping it for four years, tracking the maintenance costs and seeing what happens.
Police Chief Brad Rolfe said he would have concerns about that.
“For the most part when we are getting rid of our primary patrol squads, they are well-used cars,”  Rolfe said.
The old squads used to be used by police detectives or in the city’s motor pool, but they were well used by the time they went off patrol, Rolfe said. They also are full-sized cars and not real economical on fuel, he said. In addition, they stand out as a police car even when unmarked, making them less suitable for investigative purposes.
Now the old squads are auctioned off. They sell for $2,500 to $4,500 and are typically bought by taxi cab companies, Rolfe said.
Detectives drive Chevrolet Impalas, which go into the city’s motor pools after the police department is done with them (usually after about seven years).
Rolfe said the Impalas are typically in better shape than the old squads because they were never used as a patrol car. “The miles on them are easier miles,” he said.
In other budget-saving ideas, Dietz asked about the city conserving fuel with a vehicle idling policy.
Assistant Street Superintendent Mark Thompson, who chairs the city’s Fleet Committee,  said the city is working on an idling policy. Other cities’ policies have been reviewed and a draft one for Elk River has now been drawn up. Under the draft policy, no city vehicle or equipment would be left idling for more than five minutes, except in certain situations such as if it’s a safety issue or the unit is powering something else.
“If there’s a need for it to run, we did leave that exemption in,” Thompson said.
It’s somewhat different for the police department, which has to keep medical equipment warm in the winter and make sure squads are ready to respond at a moment’s notice even in bad weather. Rolfe said his department has a long-standing policy dealing with the idling issue.
In another budget-saving idea, Dietz also wondered about the possibility of putting the city’s building inspectors in small cars or pickups, rather than larger four-wheel-drive vehicles.

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