City vehicles could be source of savings for Tupelo

TUPELO – In hard economic times, city leaders might turn to Tupelo’s fleet of vehicles as a source of possible savings.
According to the AAA, it costs an estimated $8,100 annually to own and operate the typical vehicle; the municipality has more than 300 of them and spends hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on fuel, insurance and maintenance.
Add tractors, backhoes, lawnmowers and other non-roadworthy equipment, and those costs rise to $1.4 million annually – about 4 percent of Tupelo’s roughly $35 million general fund.
“I would not say (the costs) were out of control,” said city interim Chief Financial Officer Kim Hanna, “but it could be, in tough times, a good place to make some cutbacks.”
Ward 6 City Councilman Mike Bryan suggested such cuts during at least two FY2010 budget work sessions. He wanted to know why the government had so many vehicles and also why certain employees were allowed to drive them home.
“I would like to review that,” Bryan told the Daily Journal on Thursday. “I’m not saying we reduce any of the work trucks. Those are necessary. But we might have some cars that are unjustified.”
The city has until Sept. 15 to adopt its FY2010 budget. It will go into effect Oct. 1.
Most of the municipality’s departments have 10 cars or less for employees to use on official business. They’re typically small or mid-sized sedans.
Other departments boast dozens of vehicles – cars, pickups, motorcycles and heavy trucks – used for a variety of tasks. In this group are the Fire Department, Police Department, Public Works, Parks & Recreation and Water & Light.
Together, those five entities possess 262 vehicles. The Police Department has the most with 105, and several officers take cars home in the event they’re called to an emergency. Next comes Public Works and then Water & Light.
But the Water & Light Department has its own maintenance shop, and its fleet is considered separate from the rest of the city, said Manager Johnny Timmons.
Over the years, Timmons said, the department has tried to slash its vehicle budget, with limited success. It began converting its fleet from gas vehicles to diesel vehicles when diesel fuel prices were low. But by the time the entire fleet switched over, diesel rose again.
“It’s like chasing a white rabbit,” Timmons said, adding that it’s still cheaper to maintain and operate diesel vehicles as compared to gas ones.
The city owns its own fuel station, which helps reduce expenses. And it operates its own repair shop. Superintendent Mike Underwood said his staff stays busy year-round.
“We do it all,” Underwood said. “Tractors, motorcycles, cars, trucks.”
It’s unclear whether the council will succeed in reducing the number of vehicles the city operates. But Bryan said it’s possible to trim their expenses.
“Employees can carpool,” he said, “at least in some cases.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.

Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal