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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Louisville Courier Journal Continues Interest In Richie Farmer's Spending, This Time It's The Purchase Of More Agriculture Department Vehicles.

Richie Farmer's Ag Department buys eight more vehicles
By Tom Loftus

FRANKFORT, Ky. — Richie Farmer's Department of Agriculture bought eight more new vehicles this month, bringing to 27 the number purchased this year at a cost of about $621,000 during tight budgetary times for the state.

State procurement officials in the Finance and Administration Cabinet recently approved the purchase of the eight vehicles, costing about $176,000.

But it rejected department requests to buy two more, saying those it sought to replace were not old enough, or have enough mileage, to meet regulatory requirements.

The 27 new vehicles bought this year include a $35,340 Chevy Suburban purchased earlier this year for use by Farmer.

Overall, records show, the department has a fleet of 188 vehicles. They have been separate from the rest of the state fleet since 2007, when Farmer had his agency take control of managing and maintaining its vehicles.

The move saved the Department of Agriculture large fees that the Finance Cabinet charges to oversee vehicles of other agencies, said department spokesman Bill Clary.

The new-vehicle purchases contrast with the Beshear administration's effort to cut such spending because of the tight state budget.

But Clary said the Agriculture Department believes its approach of trading in vehicles before they have high mileage is at least as economical because it saves on maintenance costs and results in a higher price when the old vehicle is sold at auction.

“There are certain points in (a vehicle's) lifespan where maintenance costs start to spike,” Clary said. “What we try to do is try to surplus them out before those maintenance costs reach those points.”

It’s an approach favored by car rental companies, he said, adding: “Driving a vehicle until the wheels come off is — what's the cliché? — penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

Clary said he was unable to contact Farmer, the agriculture commissioner, for comment Wednesday.

The department this month asked state procurement officials in the Finance and Administration Cabinet for permission to buy 10 vehicles: six Ford Escapes (a compact SUV), three Ford F250 four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and a Dodge 5500 cab and chassis at a cost of no more than $245,000.

The new vehicles were to replace an equal number of 2005 to 2008 models with between 86,978 and 109,458 miles on them, Farmer’s department said.

A Finance Cabinet committee that reviews such requests approved the replacement of eight vehicles. The other two were rejected because a state regulation requires a vehicle to have at least 90,000 miles or be at least five years old before it can be replaced.

The request form sent by the Agriculture Department to the Finance Cabinet said the new vehicles would be used “in various programs transporting employees statewide to complete job duties.”

Clary said none of the vehicles would be used by Farmer, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor next year on a ticket with Senate President David Williams of Burkesville.

The eight vehicles being replaced have an average mileage of 98,448. That contrasts with another bulk purchase of similar vehicles this month by the Beshear administration's Department of Housing, Buildings and Construction for use by the department's seven electrical inspectors.

The housing department's new vehicles would replace 1992-2002 models with an average of 227,000 miles on them. The request for this purchase said the old vehicles often broke down and “frequently leave the inspectors stranded on the roadside causing delays in the inspection process which delays economic development.”

The Agriculture Department’s responsibilities include the regulation and promotion of agriculture, as well as the inspection of carnival rides and gas pumps. The department has about 300 employees and an annual budget of about $30 million.

Clary said the vast majority of its vehicles are used by inspectors and other employees for work in all of the state's 120 counties.

Records provided by the Agriculture Department show that all but 17 of its 188 vehicles are 2007 models or newer. More than half have fewer than 50,000 miles, and only four have more than 100,000 miles.

Cindy Lanham, a spokeswoman for the Finance Cabinet, said that 1,584 of the state's fleet of 4,665 vehicles, or 34 percent, have more than 100,000 miles. Lanham said 2,620 of the state vehicles, or 56 percent, are at least five years old.

Lanham also said that so far this year, including those ordered but not yet delivered, the Beshear administration has purchased 231 vehicles for about $5.1 million to replace about 5 percent of the fleet.

The Agriculture Department's 27 new vehicles this year represents about 14 percent of its fleet.

The Beshear administration has had to limit spending across the executive branch because of major revenue shortfalls in in each of the last three fiscal years. Budgets of nearly all state agencies have been cut, state workers have been ordered to take six days of unpaid leave this year and some political appointees have been laid off.



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