Clark County seeks to extend its vehicles' lives

Plan calls for improved management of fleet to avoid early retirements

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey offered recommendations Wednesday on improving the management of the county's fleet of nearly 400 vehicles.

Specifically, Kimsey said the process for deciding when to replace a vehicle is "incomplete and ineffective," resulting in vehicles being retired as soon as six years too early.

The county's fleet, as of the end of 2011, includes 147 vehicles for the Clark County Sheriff's Office and 140 vehicles for the Department of Public Works.

The audit findings were shared Wednesday with the county commissioners, who were receptive to Kimsey's suggestions.

"We've (also) got great cooperation from fleet management and the public works director," Kimsey said.

The county fleet includes 203 sedans and SUVs, 80 light pickup trucks, 52 heavy pickup trucks and 56 vans, according to Kimsey's report. The county has a five-step decision process managers use before deciding to replace a vehicle, but Kimsey said the process should be clarified.

For example, the county's current policy identifies the end of the "useful" life of a general light vehicle (such as a sedan for the assessor's office) as 15 years and 150,000 miles. However, Kimsey said in a report that the policy doesn't clarify that both age and mileage standards need to be met.

As a result, the county has been retiring light vehicles at either 15 years or 150,000 miles, and sometimes without hitting either mark, according to the report.

"The effect of not following existing replacement standards is significant," the report said. "Not requiring multiple replacement criteria to be met reduces the effective life of vehicles and incurs additional costs over time."

Of 17 light vehicles replaced in 2011, seven met neither mileage nor age criteria and only three met both, according to the report. At least 12 of the vehicles could have been used for two more years. Instead, the county spent $370,632 on replacements.

Kimsey recommended to commissioners that the fleet management policy be clarified and expanded, and the specific cost-per-mile for maintenance should be a factor when deciding whether to retire a vehicle.

The report also noted that recommendations from a 2004 audit on fleet operations were implemented in 2005 but have not been consistently followed.

On a positive note, Kimsey said the county generally does do a good job following policies in two other areas of fleet management -- purchasing vehicles and disposing of them.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com.