LUMBERTON — The Robeson County Sheriff’s Office is in line for 80 new vehicles that are included in a budget that County Manager Ricky Harris has proposed for the upcoming fiscal year.
The new rides can’t arrive soon enough, according to Sheriff Kenneth Sealey, who will exit that position in December after holding it since 2005.
“We’ve been asking for 25 to 35 cars every year for the past several years and we only manage to get about eight to 10 a year,” he said. “We’ve had times we’re on the way to a shooting and have had to call another district because the patrol car broke down on the side of the road. It has been a big problem.”
There are about 200 vehicles at the department, meaning about 40 percent of them would be replaced. Many of the existing vehicles have more than 200,000 miles on them.
Harris said that the plan is a lease-purchase agreement and that the county is shopping for the best deal. He said that the the local department will follow a nationwide trend and begin moving away from cruisers and toward the purchase of SUVs, and he specifically mentioned Ford Explorers.
Harris said the county hopes to be able to find a use for the old vehicles, or sell them to recoup some of the expense of the new ones.
The Board of Commissioners on Monday got its first look at the budget, which proposes to keep the tax rate at 77 cents for every $100 of property. The sticking point is likely to be a request from the Public Schools of Robeson County for an additional $17 million in funding, which Harris has said would require a tax increase.
The commissioners must approve the budget in advance of July 1, when it will take effect. Harris said that the purchase of new vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office can be absorbed with no pain for the taxpayers.
Sheriff-elect Burnis Wilkins, who will be sworn in in December, was happy to hear of the budget request.
”I appreciate the county commissioners’ recognition of the fact that our deputies are in need of new patrol vehicles as many are driving cars with excess of 200,000 miles,” he said. “These patrol cars are not only a deputy’s office, but they are often the life link to our citizens in emergency situations.”
Wilkins said he has plans for new colors and schemes for the vehicles, but wanted to keep details for later.
“I also look forward to rebranding the Sheriff’s Office as these patrol cars are the first impression people see,” he said. “The new cars will be of a new color and stripe scheme and will become very visible across the county.”
Sheriff’s Maj. Howard Branch echoed Sealey’s concern about unreliable vehicles, pointing out that spare vehicles are more than a decade old and many of the regular patrol cars, Ford Crown Victorias, are from the years 2008 to 2011.
“High-mileage cars could be a liability in emergency situations,” he said, and then noted another concern. “There are a lack of spare cars due to the wear and tear, and high mileage on regular patrol cars.”
Branch said that a newer model, a 2014, has 234,544 miles on it.
“We could definitely use some new patrol vehicles,” he said.
Sealey said while frustrated by the delay, he understands the difficulty of finding the money.
“I am very proud the commisioners are doing this,” he said. “I understand the delay for new patrol cars, I’ve been told the budget has been very tight thoughtout the years.”
Editor Donnie Douglas can be reached at 910-416-5649 or at [email protected] Annick Joseph contributed to this report. Annick Joseph contributed to this report. She can be reached at [email protected]