The No. 1 priority when it comes to vehicles at the Moffat County Sheriff's Office is providing a law-enforcement presence at the scene in a timely manner, said Sheriff Tim Jantz.
That's why he is trying to make sure every deputy has an assigned vehicle in good running condition.
Having that law enforcement presence was made difficult during the summer of 2006, as the Moffat County Sheriff's Office found itself caught between a budget crunch and soaring prices at the gas pumps.
Asked by county commissioners to hold off for a year before replacing vehicles-- so the county could rebuild budget reserves -- was something the Sheriff's Office was prepared for, but when gasoline prices jumped from $1.80 to $3 per gallon, some deputies were asked not to exceed 100 miles per day.
It made patrolling Colorado's second largest county difficult, as a round trip to Dinosaur rolls up 180 miles on an odometer.
"That hit us hard," Jantz said. "We still needed to have people on patrol. We can't just sit here in the office until we have a call."
The department survived the gas-price crisis of 2006. Now, replacing older, high mileage vehicles is being addressed by the county commissioners.
In the 2007 county budget, they allocated money for five new patrol vehicles for the Sheriff's Office, as well as two vans to transport prisoners to and from the jail.
Jantz is anticipating the arrival of the new vehicles.
"Most of the vehicles we will be replacing have more than 120,000 miles on them. I believe one has more than 140,000 miles. Some are running on a wing and a prayer," he said. "We can't expect extremely high-speed runs on a vehicle with 140,000 miles on it. We must look at the liability to the officer."
The Sheriff's Office has 14 patrol officers and each is assigned a vehicle. Jantz said response times are greatly reduced if a deputy has a vehicle ready when a call comes in.
The department tried using fleet vehicles, running 24 hours a day, seven days a week previously, but the wear and tear required replacement of vehicles every two years, Jantz said.
Having a vehicle assigned to an individual also keeps the unit in better condition as pride in one's vehicle means better care is taken and maintenance schedules followed more closely. Presence in local neighborhoods also slows traffic and creates a sense of community where residents visit with officers and discuss problems or neighborhood concerns, Jantz said.
The department replaced four of the most used vehicles last year, and Jantz said this year's replacements should get the Sheriff's Office back on track for replacing only one or two vehicles each year.
The Sheriff's Office prefers sport utility vehicles and trucks, as 80 percent of it's driving occurs on the county's gravel roads, and room is needed for gear, suspects and prisoners. Four-wheel drive is mandatory, the sheriff said.
Most of the calls that a deputy responds to are within 15 miles of Craig, but even an officer in Maybell is looking at a 100 mile one-way drive to cover an accident or a crime at the Browns Park Store.
Deputies are asked to be responsible with gasoline consumption while providing the best service possible, within the budget, Jantz said.
His department will continue to work with the commissioners to respond quickly when called, and come up with innovative ways to save money, as with operating the jail and transporting prisoners.
Two new, jail transport vans have already been approved by the commissioners. The vans make money for the county transporting prisoners to Department of Corrections locations around the state in conjunction with other counties and states.
The Moffat County jail transports prisoners for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Duchesne, Utah, and takes Department of Corrections prisoners to Denver, at times stopping along the way for prisoner pick ups in Rifle or Mesa.
Jantz said the practice is a way to build revenues for the jail in a cost effective manner.
The new vans have already been ordered, and new patrol vehicles have been approved by the commissioners.
The county received assistance in purchasing the new sheriff's vehicles from energy impact funds applied for. The county will cover 50 percent of the cost, with the remainder coming from Department of Local Affairs grants.
The vehicles will be purchased locally, and bids will be requested from Craig's automobile dealers.
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or firstname.lastname@example.org.