City vehicle fleet aging

The city’s fleet of vehicles continues to age as less money is available to purchase newer models.

One reserve fire truck dates to 1989 and a bucket truck is from 1990.

City commissioners reviewed several proposed purchases for next year at budget meetings last week, including spending about $627,500 to buy five new police cruisers, a prisoner transport van, two police supervisor SUVs, a new ambulance, a snow plow and bucket truck.

The front-line vehicles are typically 10 to 12 years old, while back-up vehicles can be even older.

Although the fleet is aging, the city doesn’t compromise the safety of residents or employees, said Andrew Rigsbee, president of the Springfield Professional Firefighters Local 333.

“When we identify a safety concern, the city is very responsive in making the repairs,” he said.

City Manager Jim Bodenmiller said having less tax money for capital expenses is the main reason behind the aging fleet. The city now uses 90 percent of its income tax dollars on operations and the remaining money, about $3 million a year, goes to its capital programs.

Of that, $2 million is used for debt service — leaving about $1 million for all other permanent improvements.

“A lot of times, that’s equipment, facilities, road infrastructure, a range of items,” Bodenmiller said. “We’re trying to serve a lot of needs with a fairly minimal amount of money … Just like everybody in their home lives, we’re doing the best we can with the limited resources we have.”

In 2004, the voters passed Issue 10, which redistributed the way income tax dollars are split to avoid increasing taxes. The previous split of 80 percent to the general fund and 20 percent to capital programs was changed to a 90 percent-10 percent split, which left less money to make permanent improvements.

“It works well for many years, but like many other things, it starts to catch up with you, just like if you didn’t invest in your own home,” Bodenmiller said.

He said the focus remains on maintaining the vehicles they currently have in the fleet.

“We have very little new vehicles coming in, which we typically cycle through police and fire and other departments,” Bodenmiller said. “We’re left with a situation where our fleet is getting pretty old.”

The city’s front-line vehicles include:

• 57 Springfield Police Division vehicles, including 40 cruisers and 17 unmarked cars. The cruisers range from 2008 to 2012 models, while the unmarked cars are 1999 through 2008 models.

• 24 trucks for the City Service Department for snow removal and other public works projects, including 19 large trucks ranging from 1992 to 2011 models.

• 20 vehicles for the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division, including 11 fire trucks ranging from 1989 through 2010 models and nine medic units that are 1998 through 2009 models.

Shawn Wilson, operations superintendent for the City Service Department, said those vehicles have preventative maintenance performed on them about four times a year, which can be adjusted based on usage.

“They break down more frequently obviously, but at the same token, we’re able to keep them on the road,” Wilson said.

The city has some back-up vehicles in its fleet.

“If one goes down, we have some leeway there,” Wilson said. “It’s when two go down, it becomes a real issue. With the squads, we’re obviously sensitive to that.”

Springfield Fire/Rescue Division Chief Nick Heimlich said the city isn’t in crisis mode, but doesn’t “have a lot of depth on the bench.”

“I use every vehicle I have every day,” Heimlich said. “If I lose a vehicle, I lose the ability to do that.”

The industry average for vehicle life, Wilson said, is about seven years before maintenance costs increase for front-line vehicles.

“(The fleet) is older than we’d like it to be, but at the same time, we’re able to keep it up and running,” Wilson said.

Both Heimlich and Wilson said safety concerns are also a reason for the preventative maintenance program.

“We don’t put anything on the street that’s not safe,” Wilson said. “If there’s a safety issue, we address it immediately.”

Heimlich said the fire division performs daily checks on vehicles after shifts. It also uses an e-mail system that provides alerts for any issues with the vehicles.

“We try to catch those problems early rather than late,” Heimlich said.

Police cruisers are often cycled out to other departments every two years, Wilson said, but they typically accumulate 24,000 to 30,000 miles per year.

“It’s worked three shifts, 24-hours a day, 365-days per year,” Wilson said.

Snow plows also require frequent maintenance due to the nature of the job. The service department handles about 16 snow events per year, which can be as little as a small dusting up to a four-day storm. Last winter was a mild one with 11 snow events, but city crews have handled as many as 26 in one year.

“It’s a rough job,” Wilson said. “They’re going to break down.”

In 2011, the city spent about $1 million on two rebuilt aerial platform fire trucks. If purchased new, they would’ve cost about $2 million. Heimlich said one of the models redone was from 1993.

“A lot of the equipment we have is very specialized and its very expensive,” Bodenmiller said.

Rigsbee agreed, saying the union members understand that it’s a difficult economy and that tight budgets have forced tough decisions.

“They’re not just cars,” he said. “They’re very expensive, technical pieces of equipment providing life-safety functions, therefore they cost a lot of money to replace and maintain.”