Madison County will soon get five new vehicles for the sheriff’s office.

County commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the purchase Feb. 15. The vehicles will cost approximately $164,000. John Pethel provided the lone “No.” Lee Allen, Tripp Strickland, Theresa Bettis and Jim Escoe voted for the purchase.

New sheriff Michael Moore asked the board to consider buying the vehicles, noting that no police cars were purchased last year. He said some of the vehicles have logged over 300,000 miles and are no longer reliable. Commissioners in favor of the purchase say that they don’t want to see people in need of emergency help unable to be assisted because a vehicle breaks down en route. At a recent meeting on the matter, Moore said he rode with a deputy and the patrol car cut off four times.

Escoe asked how much jail expansion money was left over from the 2008 special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST). The expansion project has been completed, but Chairman John Scarborough said $72,848 remains in that account. However, he said that, by law, it should return to the general funds and not be spent on other sheriff’s items. Scarborough told the board members that they need to consider the leftover jail funds and SPLOST funds as separate issues, not related to each other.

The board took no vote on the leftover SPLOST funds. But the commissioners agreed to consider moving that money to the county’s general funds at their next meeting. Meanwhile, the group agreed to pay for the car purchases out of the county’s general funds.

Pethel said he couldn’t see how the board could afford to pay for new vehicles when the group will be in dire straits come budget time. In recent years, the county has faced revenue shortfalls in the $1 million range. Expenses continue to grow, while revenues remain stagnant. And the reserve funds have dwindled, leading to talk of a potential tax rate increase.

“We’re going to be sweating bullets come budget time,” said Pethel.

Other commissioners said the sheriff’s office can’t function without reliable patrol cars.

“I don’t think public safety can wait,” said District 1 representative Lee Allen. “And it (budget time) will be tough. Duly noted.”

Scarborough said eight vehicles were purchased in 2013, adding that the county can expect those vehicles to reach their limits around the same time. He said he favors purchasing vehicles on a regular schedule and not having years with no purchases, along with years of massive buys, like 2013. He said it will be costly to have numerous vehicles hit their peaks at the same time.

“We can’t have all these run out at the same time,” he said. “There’s some utility in staggering the purchases.”

In an unrelated matter, Pethel asked Moore if the shooter simulator purchased during Kip Thomas’ administration is being used by the office now. Moore said it’s not. He said there’s no room to set up in the main sheriff’s facility and that it echoes through the building. He said it might be used at the investigative offices at the old Fine Finish facility.

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