COVINGTON, Ga. — Sheriff Ezell Brown is working with county officials on ways to begin replacing worn vehicles in his agency’s fleet after saying more than half of the vehicles have more than 200,000 miles apiece and could become safety hazards.
The sheriff recently told members of the Newton County Board of Commissioners he needed funding totaling what one commissioner estimated to be $670,000 to buy 25 new vehicles.
Brown said aged vehicles in the Newton County Sheriff’s Office fleet are becoming a safety hazard for his deputies — who sometimes are forced to drive the agency’s vehicles 100 mph in doing their jobs.
However, County Manager Lloyd Kerr said the county can only come up with funding immediately for about eight of the 25 vehicles while another seven could be funded by the end of the calendar year with sales tax proceeds.
The sheriff and commissioners agreed March 16 to begin working on a plan for replacing vehicles at a faster rate than in recent years.
Brown said he has received six new vehicles annually in recent years and they have not come close to providing what is needed.
“Six vehicles a year just ain’t gonna get it,” Brown said.
In addition, the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) can only be renewed every six years — and only if voters approve it in a referendum.
“We can’t wait for the next SPLOST,” Brown said.
A total of 87 of its 97 vehicles have more than 150,000 miles on them, Brown told the Newton County Board of Commissioners March 16.
Of those, 60 have more than 200,000 miles, 11 have more than 300,000 miles and two have more than 400,000 miles, he said.
“It seems to me we can find money for everything else,” he said.
Brown said he wanted funding to replace 49 vehicles with between 200,000 and 300,000 miles — but could work with 25 which would make his oldest vehicle a 2006 model.
“This is all about doing what is right,” Brown said. “I do not want … one of my deputies or a citizen injured.”
At a rate of six new vehicles per year, it will take 30 years to replace them all, he said.
“If someone has to travel to another state, they have to borrow my car or seek out another car that is road worthy,” Brown said.
Kerr said only about $227,000 is available that can be used to buy eight vehicles now.
Another $200,000 may be available within about eight months to buy an additional seven vehicles, said Finance Director Brittany White.
The $200,000 would come from SPLOST collections that exceed what officials expected to receive, White said.
Kerr said he did not advise using money from the county’s budget reserves to fund the purchase because it is needed to cover serious, unexpected shortfalls.
“Not to be flip, but is there anything you want to discontinue?” Kerr asked.
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders said officials “need to figure out ways” to come up with funding for the vehicles.
“We need to do what we need to do to take care of law enforcement so we can properly take care of the citizens,” Sanders said.
Brown said the sheriff’s office is spending $300,000 per year simply to keep the vehicles operating.
In addition, Ford is no longer producing Crown Victorias which means parts will become increasingly difficult to find for a vehicle commonly used by law enforcement agencies.
Afterward, Brown said he chose to ask for the funding publicly during a board meeting in part to bring attention to how serious the need was for the vehicles.
"The office of the Sheriff comes before the board every year asking for new vehicles. The request for Newton County deputies to have safe, working vehicles seems to fall on deaf ears, regardless of when it's brought to the board’s attention," Brown said.
"The board expresses the importance of transparency, so when I made the request during the March 16 meeting, I was being transparent with the citizens of this community," he said.
He said Newton County residents "needed to know the situation with our patrol fleet."
"They needed to know we have been trying to upgrade our equipment for years so our deputies can better serve and protect this community," he said.
"As I stated at the board meeting, 'Put your money where your heart is.'"