Augusta’s large fleet just got a little smaller, and officials say it’s saving the city money.
A recent program to thin the city’s herd of approximately 2,200 “assets” - cars, trucks, construction equipment, a few boats - resulted in 58 of them coming off the city’s preventative maintenance contract.
The vehicles were “underutilized, as well as had high maintenance costs,” said Takiyah Douse, head of the new city Central Services department. Central Services oversees fleet, facilities, records retention and the 311 customer service center.
Taking the underused vehicles off a routine maintenance schedule with First Vehicle Services - Augusta’s contracted maintenance shop since 2003 - will save the city $167,393 in maintenance during 2017.
First Vehicle region Vice President Steve Breeden said the savings will result from a “labor reduction” of three technicians paid a combined $106,828, $58,907 saved on parts and a $1,657 reduction in the company’s management fee.
The savings represents five percent of Augusta’s vehicle maintenance contract. A one-year extension of the contract going for Augusta Commission OK next week will cost taxpayers $2.96 million.
While some of the underused vehicles are going for sale on the government auction site govdeals.com, others are being kept in the fleet but taken off the maintenance program.
Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier said his department removed rarely-used equipment such as a large backhoe from the service program but will keep it on hand for occasional use, and handle maintenance in another way.
The reduction “makes a lot of sense,” Wiedmeier said. “We were paying as though we’re using that equipment every day.”
The eliminated vehicles came from Augusta’s Information Technology, Utilities, Engineering and Recreation and Parks departments. Elected officials weren’t asked to cull their massive fleets.
The city relies heavily on sales taxes to purchase vehicles and equipment, but can’t use the funds for maintenance.
While most departments have at least a car or two, most vehicles belong to a handful of departments. The leader is the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, with more than 500 vehicles, followed by Utilities with 177, Engineering with 120 and Recreation with 81, according to 2013 data.
Douse said with the reduction Augusta’s maintenance contract is now the lowest it has been since 1999 and ran as high as $3.6 million until 2014, she said.
The city is also looking at other ways to save, such as encouraging employees to use the smallest vehicle needed for a task and pooling resources such as dump trucks.
Last year, Fire Chief Chris James reported he saved $647,598 by moving maintenance of the department’s firefighting apparatus out from under the service contract. Environmental Services Director Mark Johnson has similarly started maintaining some of his department’s vehicles and equipment.
But Augusta could save potentially more, and commissioners last year sought an analysis of whether bringing maintenance back in house would be cheaper.
Douse said accounting firm Cherry, Baekert and Holland so far had compared First Vehicle Services’ contract with work done in-house by the fire and environmental services departments.
Later, the firm may compare Augusta’s fleet contract with costs incurred in similar cities, she said.
The local government has run into problems having both an in-house maintenance shop and an outsourced one.
In the early 1990s, the GBI twice investigated Richmond County’s vehicle maintenance shops after parts went missing or were billed multiple times to the same vehicles.
After First Vehicle Services took over the outsourced fleet contract, an employee and three co-conspirators were indicted for creating fake invoices to obtain car parts and services.