Commissioners make site visit as vehicle maintenance debate continues

Augusta’s fleet maintenance contractor brought in a lobbyist and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office weighed in for a first time as the Augusta Commission continues an effort to in-source fleet maintenance.

 

Since 2003 Augusta has contracted with Cincinnati, Ohio-based First Vehicle Services for preventative maintenance and repair work on the government’s fleet of about 2,200 cars, trucks, boats, motorcycles and pieces of construction equipment.

A current one-year extension of First Vehicle’s contract cost Augusta taxpayers $3 million. The fee does not include parts and other services, and last year Augusta spent a combined $4.8 million with the company.

Several commissioners have eyed the contract as an area to try to cut costs by creating an in-house maintenance department, and four toured Augusta’s two maintenance shops Thursday in an effort to learn more.

About 60 percent of the work done at the city light truck and passenger car maintenance shop on Broad Street is for the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, city Fleet Manager Ron Crowden said.

The sheriff’s office had a fleet of more than 500 vehicles, many of them take-home cruisers, in a 2013 report. Surplus and seized vehicles and equipment are not considered part of the fleet maintained under the service contract.

The sheriff’s office, which had not been part of prior discussions, isn’t keen on running its own auto shop, a task Augusta Fire Department took on two years ago.

“We really feel like if we want to drive down costs, the way you’re going to do it is have a more aggressive rotation program,” Chief Deputy Patrick Clayton said Thursday.

The sheriff’s office has many vehicles older than eight years or with more than 200,000 miles, Crowden said.

Chatham County, where commissioners went earlier this year to examine an in-house fleet maintenance shop, replaces its law enforcement vehicles more frequently. Most Richmond County deputies, like those in Savannah, are allowed to drive their vehicles home within a certain radius and can use them for other purposes such as private police work.

Commissioners said they were surprised to find top First Vehicle Services management in Augusta on Thursday and declined to hear a presentation from the group. They were also surprised to encounter Butch Gallop, who consults on behalf of several large city contractors. Gallop said Thursday he was also consulting for First Vehicle Services.

“I was surprised to see (Gallop) pop up,” Commissioner Andrew Jefferson said.

A former state lobbyist, Gallop drew $200 an hour working for former sales tax project manager Heery International, with the bill paid by the city. It’s unclear what his role in the fleet maintenance contract was, and several commissioners said they did not know.

“You can’t work for everybody,” Commissioner Marion Williams said. “I want to know what his affiliation is with First Vehicle Services.”

Reach Susan McCord at (706) 823-3215 or susan.mccord@augustachronicle.com.

 

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