NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County Sheriff Mike White's request for six new police cruisers has sputtered to a stop.
White took the request to Hancock County commissioners again last week, only to see it die for lack of a motion. It's the first time in his eight years as sheriff that commissioners have not approved the purchase of new cruisers, he said.
"Our cars rack up high mileage," White said. "I thought we had an agreement that every year we replace six cars. It keeps our maintenance costs down and good cars out there servicing the public."
White said he's not sure why commissioners are so unenthusiastic about this particular budget item, which also comes with a request for 16 roof-mount video cameras.
"They gave me no reason. ... They just passed over it, pretty much," he said.
For their part, commissioners say their inaction is more a yield sign than a red light.
"With a bill that large this late in the fiscal year, ... I just feel more comfortable waiting. I don't think the timing's right," said Commissioner Mike Swartzmiller.
"We're going to wait to the end of our budget year ... to see how we end up the year," said Commission President Jeff Davis. The fiscal year ends June 30.
Davis and Swartzmiller said they feel the department's cruisers are in good working order and that the commissioners' delay is not jeopardizing the safety of department personnel or the public.
"We're not in dire straits," Davis said.
White's request for six new cruisers - four 2013 Ford Sedan Police Interceptors and two 2013 Ford Police Utility Vehicles - carries a price tag of $152,698. That money usually comes from the video lottery revenue that the county gets annually from Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort, he said.
The county's share - 2 percent of the gaming revenue - amounted to $3.3. million in the fiscal year just ending, although $2.9 million had originally been budgeted, Davis said. For the coming fiscal year, $2.8 million in gaming revenue has been budgeted.
"The money is there," White said, noting that a certain percentage is meant to be used for law enforcement and fire protection purposes.
White said he first requested the cruisers in January, when the department would have saved $1,200 a car by buying at the previous year's bid price. "This time of year, there's no savings because we're on new bid specs," he said.
The sheriff's department currently has 26 cruisers, including a spare that's being used because a deputy crashed a vehicle in May. That cruiser was totalled May 17 when the deputy, responding to a report of shots fired on Shady Glen Road, struck a tree while driving up Ballantyne Road. White said he's still waiting to hear back from the insurance company.
Both Davis and Swartzmiller said another reason for waiting is the potential for additional costs from pending litigation involving the sheriff's department. Neither would elaborate because they said it involves personnel.
"Whenever we feel that we have issues that are still outstanding that could cost the county money, we will watch how we spend the money that's available to us," Davis said. "Right now, everything seems to be fine, and we're not going to do anything until we see how this litigation turns out."
White said commissioners may be referring to litigation involving a sheriff's sergeant who was demoted and then reinstated to his previous rank. Two deputies filed a complaint with the civil service commission, saying they were passed over for a promotion, and the case ended up in Hancock County Circuit Court, White said.
"I don't see where that should effect (the vehicle purchase)," White said. "I don't understand where that would be an issue at all."