Town mulls program to save money on police cars

STRASBURG – Town officials say a new program would help Strasburg save money on police vehicles.

The cost-cutting initiative connects the use of the vehicles to issuing tickets but Chief Tim Sutherly and Town Manager Ryan Spitzer have said the program would not lead to quotas or otherwise give officers greater incentives.

Spitzer explained the program to Town Council at a work session Monday as he presented information about the fiscal 2017 budget. The town could save roughly $10,000 a year, or $30,000 over three years, through the program compared to buying vehicles through a state contract.

The town has a plan to replace vehicles for the police department and other agencies over time, with a certain number each year. The police department would receive two new vehicles next fiscal year and then the town would resume its replacement program for the agency, Spitzer said.

The department would work with Public Finance Solutions, a firm that has similar partnerships with other municipalities, Sutherly said. Public Finance Solutions is based in Georgia.

Spitzer told council that the town would pay the company certain amounts per ticket issued, information that prompted some gasps in the audience.

“We’re not gonna have a quota,” Spitzer said. “They understand that we’re never gonna get to pay off these vehicles so at the end of the four years we’re probably going to have to give back those cars. But this was a way for us to mitigate not having to ask for a tax increase.”

Councilman Donald Le Vine asked “what’s the catch?”

Cindy Racey said from the audience: “More tickets.”

“It’s not necessarily more tickets,” Spitzer said.

The town manager noted that Strasburg would not be paying for the vehicles. Rather, the town would be leasing the vehicles, other council members commented, and the payment comes from the people who receive tickets.

Sutherly described the program on Tuesday as a partnership wherein the private firm buys vehicles for the police department. Instead of using public funds or tax dollars, the department repays the firm with money it collects through issuing summonses and tickets. The department only collects money from tickets that lead to convictions in court, Sutherly noted. A portion of that money then goes to the firm toward the cost of the vehicles.

The terms of the program would call for the town to buy two vehicles, specifically SUVs, for four years. Sutherly said the SUVs get about the same gas mileage as cruisers but have more space for storage and their all-wheel drive capability allows for better maneuverability on rough roads and surfaces.

“We’re not going to institute any quotas or anything of that nature,” Sutherly said. “We are going to generate the normal tickets that we would write.”

The town department occasionally receives grants from the Department of Motor Vehicles. Officers assigned under these grants must issue tickets as a condition of agreement with the DMV to receive the funds. Should the town move forward with the vehicle program, Sutherly said officers assigned under the DMV grant would use the SUVs to uphold both agreements. Sutherly added that more tickets would be written while the SUVs are in use.

The company will know how many tickets the department writes each year, Sutherly said. The company is working with 25 departments nationwide. Strasburg is the size sought by the company for the program, with less than 10,000 people, Sutherly said. The company also selected Strasburg because of its proximity to Interstates 81 and 66, he added.

Spitzer told council on Monday that the department likely would not write enough tickets to cover the cost of the vehicles.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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