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Arnold finds a way to keep police rolling

| Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013, 9:36 p.m.
Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Arnold Police Chief Willie Weber stands among the five used police cars from Tarentum, Castle Shannon, and Plum that Arnold bought and refurbished at his suggestion. They now comprise the patrol fleet for the Arnold Police Department, as shown on Monday, Dec. 16, 2013.

Saving money is a black-and-white issue for Arnold police.

The town of 5,000 has been cash strapped for several years. Last year, its 10-member police department started to run out of cars to use.

One cruiser's engine died when an officer ran into standing water. Other cruisers had high miles and weren't reliable.

A high speed chase led to a crash, and another car was hit by another motorist.

“Even the drug dealer-confiscated car was on its last leg,” said police Chief Willie Weber.

Arnold didn't have enough money for a even one new car and continue to pay for 10 police jobs.

Depending on make and model, new police cars cost between $21,000 to $29,000 and each requires thousands of dollars more for equipment.

So Weber's search for a solution turned to used police cars in good shape.

Weber said he learned that Castle Shannon tries to sell its police cars with 85,000 to 95,000 miles on the odometer.

He wondered: Do other municipalities do the same thing?

“There's not really a big market for used police cars,” said Castle Shannon Police Chief Ken Truver.

Weber met Truver at a regional police chief's meeting in 2012 and learned that a used, but good-running FordCrown Victoria was available.

That black-and-white was Arnold police's first foray into seeking used cars.

Castle Shannon is in good financial shape and its 8,300 residents would be served if Arnold could pay the trade-in value.

The police cruiser was painted black and white — unlike Arnold's prior fleet of white cars with blue lettering.

Later, when Tarentum decided to replace a police cruiser, Tarentum police Chief Bill Vakulick told Weber. The departments participate in a joint drug task force and the departments routinely back up each other.

“We basically sold it to them at the same cost to trade it in,” said Tarentum Borough Manager Bill Rossey. “We may buy a new car next year. And if we do, we will contact them to see if they're interested.

“We work with East Deer, Harrison and other police departments,” Rossey said. “We can help each other.”

Arnold needed to replace more vehicles, and this year, Plum Borough had several to trade in.

Plum police Chief Frank Monaco said the borough usually solicits bids for the department's used vehicles.

“We usually sell them to a constable or someone like that. It was the decision of council to sell them to Arnold,” Monaco said. “It was a nice thing to do.”

Arnold bought an SUV and two cruisers for about $9,000 — about the amount Plum would have received on trade-in.

“State law allows us to go government-to-government without a bid,” Monaco said.

Chris Gazzi, of the Local Government Commission of the state Department of Community and Economic Development confirms that.

Monaco said the vehicles have high miles, but they have been well maintained.

“They're not hard miles in Plum,” he said.

Arnold bought and equipped five police vehicles for about $19,500. In comparison, Frazer recently agreed to buy a new Dodge Charger for about $24,200.

“An average municipality gets rid of a car with 80,000 to 90,000 miles, and we're just buying them,” said Arnold Mayor Larry Milito. “But they still have a lot of life in them.”

He said Arnold is selective about what it buys.

The mayor said the city has been dealing with financial woes since he took office in January 2012.

“Chief Weber has done a great job,” Milito said. “This is fantastic, and it helps everybody.”

Government-to-government purchases aren't usual.

Some government have different levels of need.

New isn't always needed, said Rick Schuttler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Municipal League.

“Most local governments are willing to cooperate,” he said.

The used-car route doesn't surprise Greggory Michak of the National Association of Municipalities in Washington, D.C.

“All cities are still dealing with the economy and unemployment is still high,” he said. “At the same time, they have put money into aging infrastructure.”

Chuck Biedka is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4711 or cbiedka@tribweb.com.

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