The Howard County sheriff says half of his department's vehicles arein such bad shape that its ability to transport prisoners and serve legal papers could be jeopardized.
Sheriff Michael A. Chiuchiolo said 13 of his department's 26 cars are used Howard County police cruisers with mileage between 93,000 and 142,000.
"The situation is so bad that unless we get funds to replace the 13 cars, we could be faced with not having enough safe cars to go outon the road, and that means the court papers won't be served," he said.
"We are experiencing increased maintenance and any of these vehicles, 5 to 8 years old, could go down at any time," he said.
Chiuchiolo said the county's budget office told him not to bother seeking replacements in the upcoming fiscal year because of the fiscal crunch.
So far this year, he said, two cars have been taken out of service because of the high cost of repairs. Just this week, the exhaustsystem fell off another old car. He's down now to one spare car available to use when others are being repaired. Four or five cars is what he should have in reserve, Chiuchiolo said.
"I am also concernedwith the safety of our deputies if we do not replace these old vehicles," the sheriff said.
He said the problem with the cars can become a security risk in the transportation of prisoners as well as problematic for manpower.
"We had to transport a second deputy to Hagerstown last month, when the transmission in one of the cars went out.We had to bring a prisoner back here for trial at the time," Chiuchiolo said.
He noted that the sheriff's office does have 13 "good" cars, purchased in fiscal 1989 and 1990. Those have fewer than 39,000 miles on them. But no new cars were bought this fiscal year because of budget cutbacks. And with no new cars in the offing during the fiscal year that begins July, it could be another 12 to 18 months before the department gets replacement vehicles.
The sheriff said for $130,000 the county could replace the 13 cars with the extensive mileagewith year-old cars from rental companies at $10,000 each -- substantially below the cost of a new car. Typically, those cars have no morethan 30,000 miles on them.
"Otherwise, we are talking about 18 months before we get replacements, and these 13 won't make it that long," he said.
The sheriff's concerns have caught the ear of County Councilman Paul Farragut, D-4th, who said he will discuss the issue with the other four council members.
"I would support additional sheriff's cars in the capital budget. His maintenance costs are high andthe cars are breaking down," said Farragut. "I don't think $130,000 is an unreasonable sum. I think he has a legitimate concern."
"It is news to me," said County Executive Charles I. Ecker. "It was neverbrought to my attention. I assume the reason for this request is that the departments are finding that the Board of Education is getting funds restored and they want some, too."
The sheriff said his contact with council members about the fleet was in response to a recently completed citizens' study committee report, which considered the age of the vehicles to be a major problem.