The Spokane Police Department has the green light to order upwards of 70 new vehicles as replacements to bolster the department’s aging fleet.
Whether the city will be able to buy all of those when the time comes, however, is up in the air.
The Spokane City Council voted Monday to authorize approximately $3.1 million for the department to purchase up to 46 Ford Police Interceptor Utility SUVs or Ford Mach-E models.
The vote represents another step in a continued effort to replace aging police vehicles, as the City Council in March approved around $2.4 million for 25 Interceptors, two Chevrolet diesel Tahoe trucks and eight electric vehicles.
Though the police department has the council’s authority to place the orders, police officials will now have to contend with a buying market complicated by apparent supply chain issues.
March 2020 was the last time SPD placed an order that was fulfilled, with delivery for approximately 14 hybrid vehicles taking place a year later, Spokane Police Maj. Eric Olsen said during a City Council committee meeting last month.
With the request approved by council in March, Olsen said a purchasing window for the Tahoe trucks had opened earlier this year for less than 24 hours, resulting in more than half of the orders placed being canceled due to the overwhelming demand. Meanwhile, Olsen said city Fleet Services has been unable to buy the 25 Interceptors to date.
“No dealers have them on the lot,” Olsen said during the July 11 Public Safety and Community Health Committee meeting, “and if they have something that fits, they just sell them outright to the public because they get more money for them.”
The city will now attempt to order the 71 Interceptors authorized by the City Council – the 25 from March and the 46 approved Monday – during a purchasing window officials are expecting to open in the next week or so.
The window for the Ford Interceptors only opens once per year, usually in August or September, Olsen said.
If this attempt fails, SPD faces the prospect of having to wait another year, putting delivery into the 2024 range, the city’s Director of Fleet Services Rick Giddings said in July – all while continuing to rack up more mileage and higher repair costs as the existing fleet continues to age.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday to approve the purchases.
Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who cosponsored the legislation with Councilman Jonathan Bingle and Council President Breean Beggs, said the council has been working on a way to order police vehicles over time rather than purchase them in bunches.
“This will hopefully catch us up to where we need to be so we can go to a better model of ordering cars,” she said. “To say there is a supply chain issue is an understatement because there’s a two-year wait. Even with the two-year wait, we’re not guaranteed to get everything that’s ordered, so I think it’s crucial that we do this now so that at least we get something moving forward and our police aren’t walking to emergency calls.”
While City Council members agree the police department needs new vehicles, they disagreed Monday on where the money should come from.
With Monday’s vote, the council moved to use the city’s unallocated reserves for buying the 46 Interceptors despite requests from the police department and the city administration to use part of the $81 million the city received through the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The American Rescue Plan is a stimulus program aimed at helping the country recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several council members on Monday expressed interest in finding a more sustainable funding source for vehicles in the coming months.
“What I’m suggesting with this proposal is we’ll get us the vehicles on order and it will give us time to come up with that sustainable plan,” Beggs said. “It could be internal loans. It could be other revenue sources, but I think we owe to the community and the police and fire departments to figure out a sustainable plan.”
The City Council on Monday also approved a third slate of spending objectives for the federal funds totaling approximately $28 million.
Councilman Michael Cathcart sought to adjust that package to include the money for the police vehicles. He included the proposal with a number of other changes with reductions to compensate, such as nixing $5 million for the city to buy a site for a new municipal justice complex.
His proposed amendment, supported only by Bingle, failed to sway the majority.
“Taking this out of unappropriated reserves is going to be pretty tough on our budget, and we’re already in a very tight budget,” Cathcart said. “The prudent thing here, and the difficult decision we have, is that we’ve got a week basically to make this choice when that window opens.”
Mayor Nadine Woodward on Tuesday was also critical of the council’s decision to forgo the American Rescue Plan funding.
“Those unallocated reserves, with the economy the way it is – we’ve gone now from inflation to recession – we want to preserve whatever reserves we have in the budget,” Woodward said. “To continue to spend those reserves down is concerning to me.”
The City Council already allocated American Rescue Plan funding for the 35 police vehicles approved earlier this year as well as $3.7 million’s worth of vehicles for the Spokane Fire Department.
Funding included in the $28 million approved Monday – the largest batch approved by the council to date – will support not only the municipal justice center efforts, but also capital improvements to community centers, support toward pathways to higher education for high school students citywide and grants for small businesses and nonprofits.
In distributing the federal dollars, several council members have said they do not want to put all of the city’s eggs in one basket.
“I’m glad it’s not coming from (the recovery act) because that’s funds we could not have given out to the community, to those impacted from the city poorly managing our services,” said Councilman Zack Zappone. “I think it’s important to be getting the money out to the community, whether it’s small businesses, higher education investment, our neighborhoods.”
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