Rhinelander police chief Lloyd Gauthier wants to take money left over from the department's 2017 fuel and vehicle maintenance accounts to purchase and outfit two unmarked vehicles in 2018.
The city finance committee signed off on Gauthier's request Nov. 7 and the full City Council was expected to vote on it Monday evening. The meeting was scheduled to take place after press time.
Gauthier told the finance committee this move would allow the department to make the purchase without having to include the cost in the list of items the committee will have to decide to cover through borrowing, thus saving the taxpayers money.
Committee chair Mark Pelletier said the purchase of the replacement used vehicles would be more economical than continuing to spend increasing amounts to maintain the present cars, which are primarily used by the force's two detectives.
"You can see that I didn't bring anything forward (in the 2018 budget) for capital improvement," Gauthier said. "I wanted to try to operate in the current budget amount that you gave me. With that said, over the years, the vehicle account for the PD has gone down, so it becomes a challenge to keep our frontline squads and detective cars in an operating condition where it doesn't cost us, it is not nickel-and-diming us when they get high mileage and they are doing city driving."
Gauthier said he and Capt. Ron Lueneburg came up with the proposal.
"(The vehicles) are getting older and we are starting to see some increase in maintenance costs," Gauthier said. "This is a way that we can stay within our current budget and not come to you and ask for more money."
Gauthier said the plan is to trade in the old vehicles and purchase newer models, although they will be used vehicles.
Alderperson Tom Gleason, a retired police officer, asked if the department is still budgeting fuel at a cost of $4 a gallon.
"We have left the fuel budget the same for the last few years," Lueneburg said.
Pelletier noted that in previous years $4 a gallon was the price used for calculating the fuel budget.
"It is better to be safe," he said.
"That's why I'm asking because obviously you're going to have a reserve in that account for the past few years because gas has been somewhat less expensive," Gleason said.
The money won't be transferred until right before the end of the year to make sure there are funds available in case gas prices continue to rise.
Gauthier said he is also considering trading in the department's motorcycle "that has been sitting there collecting dust" because the department has only one officer certified to operate it.
"That is an item where staffing levels have to be at a level where we can have somebody patrolling on that," Gauthier said. "It is a luxury that at our current staffing levels we can't afford to have."
Having the city shop mechanics do the bulk of the upkeep on the RPD fleet has held maintenance costs down, he added.
"That saves us a ton of money because we're paying for parts only," Gauthier said.
If this funding approach could be repeated for a couple years, the department would be able to replace the force's entire fleet of unmarked vehicles, he added.
The city already replaces one marked patrol squad a year and using either 10 or 20-year borrowing for vehicles is not cost-effective, he said.
"We would certainly shop around and see if we could get something locally, what is the best deal that we can get," Gauthier said.
Local dealerships might be able to locate an economical program car that they could sell to the force at a good price, Gleason agreed.
"And we seem to get exceptional trade-ins (from the local dealers)," Pelletier noted.
The committee unanimously approved the plan.
In addition, the committee also forwarded to the City Council Gauthier's proposal to offer a scholarship to the Nicolet Police Training Academy to someone the police and fire commission feels would make a good officer but who lacks the required academy training to be certified as a sworn officer.
Gauthier said the state would reimburse the city for the tuition for the training if the candidate graduates from the program. In addition, the person selected would have to sign a contract promising to pay the city back if they fail to successfully complete the program.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at email@example.com.
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