After several years of making do with old, high-mileage cars, the county administration stepped up its purchase of passenger vehicles this past fiscal year.
The county bought 23 passenger vehicles during the fiscal year that ended June 30, at a total cost of $690,000, according to information provided by county Finance Director Nancy Crawford. Eleven of those vehicles, purchased by the county Department of Parks and Recreation, were used cars purchased from state surplus and a local auto auction, she said.
That’s a far cry from the 98 passenger vehicles purchased in the 2007-2008 fiscal year prior to Mayor Billy Kenoi taking office, and the 77 in 2008-09, although substantially more than the two vehicles purchased in the 2012-13 year and the 13 bought the year before that.
“You can tell how tightened down we’ve been,” Crawford said, adding that many of the cars were bought new in the 1990s and have well over 100,000 miles on them. Some have more than 200,000 miles on their odometers.
“Many of them are not operational,” she said. “They’re beyond repair.”
Four of the new cars were purchased with grant funds.
Passenger vehicles include cars, vans, pickups and SUVs. They do not include larger dumper pickups used by Highways Division.
Environmental Management Director Bobby Jean Leithead Todd is about to give up her county car, but it’s not leaving the road. Instead, the 2007 car, which has 252,000 miles on it, will be used by a new deputy director who’s been hired to fill a vacancy.
“It runs great,” Leithead Todd said. “I’m lucky it’s a newer vehicle. There’s something to be said for regular maintenance.”
Leithead Todd said she’ll do less driving once the deputy is on board, and she’ll rely on her personal car when needed.
Total passenger vehicle inventory for the 2012-13 fiscal year was 614.
More new cars are coming down the pike for the current fiscal year, according to fund transfers reported to the County Council Finance Committee earlier this month.
The committee received a report of $436,407 in fund transfers for new cars for the Mayor’s Office, the Property Management Division, supervisors and inspectors for the Automotive Division and vehicles for Parks and Recreation, according to the report.
The report didn’t specify how many cars were being purchased with the transferred funds. Money was coming from the vehicle fuel account, as less was spent on fuel than anticipated, and also from money generated from disabled placards and other miscellaneous accounts.
The council filed the report without comment on the cars.
But county cars were an issue early in Kenoi’s tenure when then Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong sent a letter to the mayor saying 107 county cars were available for employees to commute to work. He urged Kenoi to tighten vehicle take-home policy to save money and wear and tear on the vehicles.
Public Works Director Warren Lee, when he took over in 2009, reduced the 55 vehicles employees were taking home to 22, and other departments seemed ready to follow suit.
Crawford said county policy for vehicles prohibits employees from using them for personal use. Employees are allowed to stop at a grocery store or pick up their children on their way home, but are otherwise forbidden from using county vehicles for nonwork reasons.
Although Crawford said she’s never heard of an instance when an employee abused the privilege, she’s certain it must have happened.
Public Works spokeswoman Noelani Whittington told West Hawaii Today at the time that she’d heard of county employees being disciplined for violating the county’s policy, and it is usually residents who report them. In recent years one employee was reported for stuffing a Christmas tree into a county vehicle, she said.
In addition to verbal or written reprimands, Crawford said disciplinary measures for employees who violate the privilege could include revocation of the privilege.
Crawford said most of the vehicles nowadays are pool vehicles that are rotated among more than one employee as necessary.
The vehicles being replaced will be sold at a county auction this fall. In all, 26 vehicles or parts of vehicles will be sold, Crawford said.