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Marion buys new police cars

The Marion Police Department is getting a raise and three fresh-off-the-lot new police cars, but they’re not arriving without a little bit of debate and compromise on the part of the Marion City Council.

The Council approved the purchase of the three new vehicles, each a 2006 Chevy Impala, at their meeting Monday night. The vehicles will be paid off over a four-year period, with payments beginning “in arrears,” or after the first year of purchase.

Specific financial details regarding the lease of the vehicles was unavailable, however, because the plan put on the table by Mayor Anthony J. Long originally called for the city to purchase five vehicles. Thus the lease terms brought to the meeting by the Larry Puckett Chevrolet official handling the sale were for five cars rather than three.

“This is my opinion,” Long told the Council and other attendees about the five-car plan. “We’ve got a lot of repairs we’re doing on our old cars and some need major repairs. These cars run 24 hours a day. One man gets out and another gets in. It’s not worth the money to keep them up.

“Our two Crown Victorias are in good shape,” he added. “This would give us 7 units. It’s enough that we could take our old cars off the fleet for good.”

Long’s point-of-view was seconded by Councilman Spencer Hogue.

“You’ve got to analyze what we’ve got,” he said. “For two years we’re not going to be paying any repair bills. Right now we’re paying hundreds of dollars a month to fix these old cars. Whether it’s now or later, at some point you’ve got to bite that same bullet. If you look at how much we’ll be saving on gas and repairs, there’s your payment right there. Spending all this money on repairs is paying money backwards. We need to move on.”

Long and Hogue also pointed out that the vehicles’ radar guns would also enable them, through the occasional speeding ticket, to help the vehicles pay for themselves.

But Long and Hogue’s arguments were not enough to persuade the Council that the city could afford five vehicles. Under a four-year lease, the city would pay a total of $32,000 a year for the vehicles. Councilman James Hollis suggested the purchase would neglect other areas the city needed to invest money in, and Councilman Willie Jackson said the repair costs could be lessened by improving the city’s repair shop. Hogue moved, however, that the Council purchase the vehicles and a roll call vote found Long, Hogue, and Brandon Taylor in favor of the five-car purchase and Hollis, Jackson, and Corin Harrison against. The tie meant that the motion had failed.

A visibly frustrated Long said that the new vehicles were essential for the Department to continue their service to the city.

“Our Police Department cannot function,” he said, “when the officers have to get under the car and beat the starter with a hammer to get the car to crank. You shouldn’t put a policeman on patrol in July weather without an air conditioner. How does it look when an officer gets out to write a ticket and his car has a headlight out? These cars are just wore slap out.”

Harrison then moved that the Council compromise, purchasing three new vehicles rather than five and reconsider the other two vehicles later in the year. Hogue and Long voted against the new measure while in favor were Harrison, Jackson, Hollis, and the apparent swing-vote, Taylor. The motion carried.

In addition to the forthcoming new patrol cars, the meeting had more good news for the Marion PD, as the Council unanimously approved a pay raise for both officers and dispatchers. The raise, according to Harrison necessary to ward off other Departments from “hiring our guys away,” adjusts for the officers’ and dispatchers’ rank and experience.

The Larry Puckett Chevrolet official said the cars would arrive ready for the officers to “turn the key and patrol,” with the vehicle’s cage, radio, lights, and sirens all already installed. He also said the Impalas would double the Department’s Crown Victoria’s gas mileage, had a higher top speed, and “handled more crisply.”