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All brand new, never driven
More than 100 patrol cars have sat idle since spring, waiting for paperwork to clear.
By DAVID DECAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published August 14, 2007
On a field off to the side of the Pasco County Jail there are lines and lines of unmarked police cruisers.
[David Degner | Times]
Gleaming and white, the 108 new patrol cars arrived this spring for Pasco County sheriff's deputies.
And there they sit to this day, soaking up the sun in a green field near the Land O'Lakes jail because county officials did not turn over ownership to Sheriff Bob White.
Without titles to the cars, White cannot send them out on patrol.
"Ouch," Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said Monday upon learning of the holdup. "You can't blame the sheriff on that." The error was on the county's end, she said.
County budget director Mike Nurrenbrock and an official with the Clerk of Courts blamed the three-month delay on lost paperwork by the state. Titles for the vehicles were finally turned over to the Sheriff's Office on Monday, following queries by the Pasco Times.
The new cars, which cost $1.9-million, would be replacements in a fleet of 375 marked cars. As new cars arrive, older models go to detectives, school resource officers and other personnel, Sheriff's Office spokesman Kevin Doll said. Replaced cars also turned into surplus backups and vehicles for parts.
"We were pretty strapped for the surplus vehicles," Doll said, though he said policing wasn't harmed. The new cars could be outfitted and on patrol by the end of September, he said.
In response to the delay, Nurrenbrock said the county plans to approve turning over the cars when the purchase is approved. This year, approval to buy them came Feb. 20, but the county didn't declare them surplus until July 24.
Nurrenbrock said the county would do whatever it takes to avoid the delay next year.
"If it's going to make sense for someone to drive to Tallahassee and basically walk 108 cars through titles ... I'll say this, we'll make that inquiry," he said.
The revelation comes as Nurrenbrock and county officials comb White's proposed budget for cuts before today's 9 a.m. meeting of the sheriff and the County Commission in New Port Richey. Nurrenbrock and White met Monday without any compromises over cuts.
White has asked for an $11.2-million budget increase - a 13.4 percent hike - but the commission has to cut $15.8-million in spending countywide to meet state-ordered property tax cuts.
The unused cars, all Chevrolet Impalas, were purchased using $1.9-million from the Penny for Pasco sales tax increase approved by voters three years ago.
White asked the commission last year to let his office oversee that portion of the sales tax money and the patrol car purchases to save time. The commission declined. On Monday, Nurrenbrock said he still thinks the county should control the Penny for Pasco finances.
By keeping the money under the commission's control, it means the county buys the vehicles, then declares they are surplus cars for deputies. During that process, the title has to be turned over to the Sheriff's Office and tags are issued. Until that's done, the agency can't allow deputies to use them.
Usually, titles arrive about 10 days after the paperwork is received by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, said Jay Kominsky, who oversees the process at the Pasco County Clerk of Court Office as director of financial services.
A spokeswoman with the state agency did not return a call Monday seeking comment.
This year, the cars started arriving May 15 to May 30, bought at $17,799 apiece from the Garber dealership in Green Cove Springs, according to documents the Pasco Times obtained through an open records request. To get that discounted price, Pasco bought the cars through the Florida Sheriffs Association's bulk purchase program.
Between May 30 and June 7, the county said, paperwork went to the clerk's office to have vehicle titles transferred to the sheriff.
Six weeks passed. The county's fleet management office contacted the clerk's office July 26. According to Nurrenbrock, that's when the county learned the titles had not been received from the state. A few days earlier, the county and Sheriff's Office agreed to allow White's agency to start applying the graphics to vehicles.
Then last Friday rolled around, and county officials learned the state was resending the title documents. Kominsky said they were hand-delivered Monday morning to the county to be signed over to the Sheriff's Office. But they went to the tax collector's office, instead of the clerk's office as expected.
As it turns out, Kominsky said, the state tried to mail the title documents four times before they arrived.
"Frankly," he said, "we don't know why it took four attempted deliveries, as we were told, to get to the tax collector."