Budget belt-tightening: Elk River squads will be kept for four years rather than three

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

An Elk River Police Department squad car. Star News file photo

In a sign of belt-tightening at Elk River City Hall, the police department’s squad cars will now be replaced after four years rather than three.

Capt. Ron Nierenhausen told the City Council during a recent budget work session that the department is starting to see squad cars being driven fewer miles in a year. Originally, Elk River’s squad cars were projected to be driven 33,000 miles a year. They were expected to hit the 100,000 mile mark after three years, when they were replaced.

But Nierenhausen said he has gone over the police department’s entire fleet and examined the mileage and the squad cars are now averaging about 25,000 miles a year.

“That allows us to go to the extra year and put it at four years (for replacement),” he said.

There is a lot of speculation about why the squads are being driven fewer miles but Nierenhausen said there is no solid proof as to the reason.

“We can speculate that we’re having more calls that are in the inner part of the city so we’re not driving longer distances … We’re short staffed so officers aren’t more prone to be out running traffic up and down the highway because they want to stay in that call area,” he said. “So whatever the case may be, we have less miles being driven so therefore we changed to a four-year (replacement) cycle.”

During budget talks last year, Mayor John Dietz had suggested keeping one squad car for an extra year as a test. A 2009 Ford Crown Victoria that was scheduled to be replaced in 2012 was kept an additional year to evaluate the maintenance costs.

As of May 15 of this year, maintenance on that car for 2012 totalled $681. That included oil changes, some brake work and replacing three tires and one headlight.

Maintenance of the vehicles is done by city employees. A mechanic’s evaluation of the test squad car in May listed its condition as “excellent.”

Elk River’s old squad cars are typically auctioned off. They sell for $2,500 to $4,500 and are often bought by taxi cab companies.