BY ANGIE JACKSON
---- — BEULAH — Benzie County Sheriff Ted Schendel calls his current department vehicle a “rust bucket.”
“There’s holes in it. The police lights are being held up with zip ties. The radio in there, I can’t use because it’s outdated,” he said.
Schendel thinks it’s time to replace his 2002 Ford Explorer and other department vehicles.
He recently relayed that message to the county’s Board of Commissioners. That was a continuation of a conversation that began last month, when he asked the board for five additional deputies to beef up the county’s road patrol to 24 hours a day -- a request with an estimated price tag of about $300,000, not including deputies’ vehicles, uniforms and guns.
Schendel formally asked for two new vehicles -- for himself and a road patrol deputy -- that would cost about $30,000 each, he said. He also presented commissioners with a local dealership’s prices for two Durangos and three Avengers -- none of which would go to patrol deputies. Schendel said that was a proposal and not a formal request.
His request was met with some confusion.
“What I see is, looking at this vehicle request, is not road patrol vehicles but a vehicle for the sheriff to drive and a vehicle for the undersheriff to drive,” commission Chairman Don Tanner said. “I think our deputies need vehicles before anybody else.”
Schendel contends he’s not asking for a replacement for the undersheriff’s vehicle, and his “just happens to be the oldest in the patrol vehicle fleet, which is 11 years old.”
The two vehicles Schendel wants replaced logged more than 100,000 miles, a mileage mark specified in the department’s union contract at which “primary patrol” vehicles should no longer be used. Schendel’s vehicle doesn’t fall under that category.
“I’m driving a car with 215,000 miles on it,” Tanner said. “Most of us folks are buying cars with that kind of mileage on them.”
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley said his department doesn’t replace cars after a certain mileage mark, and some in the fleet have rolled up 140,000 miles. Cars generally are replaced in Leelanau County when they hit 150,000 miles or become unsafe, Sheriff Mike Borkovich said.
Benzie County Administrator Chris Olson said county officials are receiving Schendel’s request “piecemeal” and a comprehensive request would be helpful.
“While he’s made the request for the patrol officers, this request for vehicles is not for those patrol officers,” Olson said. “We’re trying to figure this out.”
Schendel said he thought the need for additional cars to outfit the requested deputies would be implied.
The Benzie Sheriff’s Department received two new cars for the year fiscal year 2013, one in 2012 and none in 2011 because of financial concerns. Schendel said that put the department in a precarious spot, and two cars are 20,000 miles shy of the union contract’s replacement mark.
“It’s all piling up on us because they didn’t replace them when they should’ve been replaced,” he said.
Tanner said he and other commissioners plan to digest Schendel’s requests. They’ve formed a committee to evaluate possible funding options, such as a millage. He said he sympathizes with the sheriff department’s needs, but it’s not the only county department stressed for resources.
“The new sheriff’s coming to town and he’s wanting us to do all sorts of extraordinary things and we don’t have the extraordinary budget to do what he’s looking for,” Tanner said.