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Council approves purchase of cars, buses

By Staff | Mar 13, 2012

The Cape Coral police department and the city’s charter school system will get new vehicles. The way they’ll be paid for is still in the air.

The City Council voted to approve the purchase of 40 police vehicles, a fire pumper and other IT equipment for $2.1 million and the purchase of 15 buses for the City of Cape Coral Charter School Authority for $1.5 million.

The police cars passed by a 7-1 margin, with Mayor John Sullivan casting the lone dissent, while the bus purchase passed unanimously.

The lone mystery about the police cars is how they’ll be purchased. The city was able to piggyback quotes awarded by other entities to get a financing rate of 1.48 percent for the police cars, and 1.67 percent for the buses.

However, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz asked if the city can just buy them outright instead of spreading the pain over five years while paying interest on top of that.

“Let’s buy them outright. The 1.5 percent sounds attractive, but banks are borrowing at 1 percent,” Leetz said. “That’s 15 times more for us to borrow. That’s the definition of insanity.”

Police Chief Jay Murphy said Leetz’s concerns were valid, saying the approval of the motion only starting the ball rolling.

“We need this to figure out what to do,” Murphy said, noting that the cars to be replaced all have more than 100,000 miles and that the city hadn’t bought new cars since 2008.

Upon learning this, Sullivan presented an idea where the city could rebuild police cars. It was an idea Murphy wasn’t keen on.

“That’s serious money for cars this old. If it was so popular, big departments like Miami-Dade would be doing it,” Murphy said. “That’s throwing good money on top of bad cars.”

Murphy added that rebuilding cars wouldn’t increase fuel efficiency because it would mean putting in the old engine.

“If we don’t look at it, we’re not doing our job,” Sullivan said, noting that the Birmingham, Ala., police department rebuilt its cars and had much success.

As for the buses, McGrail said the move made sense because they would be bigger with better fuel economy.

Besides, the charter schools, which has always been good on debt payment with the city, wouldn’t be stuck with “back of the fleet” buses that broke down a lot and allow the schools to plan field trips.

“The buses will (pay for themselves) by year four and maintenance will go down significantly,” McGrail said.

Councilmember Derrick Donnell sponsored an ordinance to enter into a lease/purchase agreement with U.S. Bancorp for the money to pay for the vehicles. That will be voted on March 26.