By Nolan Madden
Members of the Navajo County Board of Supervisors approved Tuesday the acceptance of funds from the Gila River Indian Community (GRIC) to replace some high-mileage county law enforcement vehicles.
The board’s approval poises the GRIC to review the proposed grant to fund the purchase of three 2015 Dodge Ram 1500 model pickup trucks through the Navajo County Sheriff’s Office at the cost of $146,321.16. The trucks will replace three vehicles to be decommissioned from patrol service that were initially requested for replacement in 2013. The sheriff’s office reports that 23 of the county’s existing patrol and K-9 fleet vehicles are in critical need of immediate replacement.
Due to current fiscal conditions within the county stemming in part from the 2008 economic recession, the sheriff’s office is struggling to replace vehicles in order to provide adequate law enforcement services countywide.
Sheriff KC Clark took a proactive approach in response to this challenge when he came to office. “We made an agreement with County Manager James Jayne back in 2009 to keep vehicles within our patrol fleet in operation for approximately 130,000 miles per year,” he said.
Chief Deputy James Molesa noted that this mileage range is twice the typical useful life span of law enforcement service vehicles. “Many sheriff’s offices within our industry don’t get anywhere near the mileage we get on our vehicles. Law enforcement vehicles in the Metro Phoenix area average 60,000 to 70,000 miles per vehicle each year,” he said.
The sheriff’s office reports it responded to or initiated 24,786 recorded incidents countywide in 2014. Due to the rural nature of law enforcement within the county, deputies routinely drive several hundred miles each work week, often in adverse weather conditions and difficult terrain, accounting for the large majority of high-mileage patrol vehicles in the sheriff’s fleet, many with upwards of 200,000 miles. The department estimates the average life span of one vehicle to be between five and six calendar years under routine maintenance, which typically allows vehicles to remain in use well past the manufacturer’s factory warranty period.
Molesa pointed out that its replaced vehicles aren’t necessarily swapped out due to cosmetic wear. “Our deputies take care of their cars and (the county) does a very good job of maintaining them,” he said.
A majority of retired patrol vehicles are repurposed for light duty use throughout the county by Sheriff’s Auxiliary Volunteers, probation officers and public works maintenance workers. Vehicles beyond their usable life term are auctioned publicly, with sales proceeds returning to the county’s general fund.
The grant’s funder, The Gila River Indian Community, is an Indian reservation within the Phoenix metropolitan area in Pinal and Maricopa counties. Through its Office of Special Funding, the GRIC supports Arizona municipalities under its annual revenue-sharing program, sponsoring municipal governments and non-profit organizations to provide economic development, education, healthcare, public safety and transportation services.
Funding for these grants is provided by a portion of Gila River Casino’s annual revenues as a provision of Proposition 202 approved by Arizona voters in 2002, which created formal gaming agreements between the State of Arizona and Arizona tribes to support municipalities in providing government services that benefit the general public.
The Navajo County Sheriff’s Office works very closely with its tribal partners, routinely conducting firearms, detention officer basic training and other classroom training with and for the Hopi and San Carlos Apache tribes, in addition to the Navajo Nation.
The sheriff’s office also contributes financial support to area tribes in the form of High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) grant funding and regularly sends K-9 drug dogs to assist in ridding tribal areas of drug trafficking. And the Major Crimes Apprehension Team (MCAT) routinely sends a deputy to educate students in Navajo Nation schools on drug awareness.
Clark and Molesa said improving their department’s aged vehicle population is just one vital step in maintaining a high level of protective services for the community. Molesa, for instance, drives a small fuel-efficient SUV. He says the same goes for other non-tactical department staff.
“Detectives and administrative staff don’t require a Code 3 pursuit vehicle to perform their routine duties, so we look at ways to use our funds more efficiently. This approach ultimately improves our bottom-dollar savings on gas and tires, and allows us to streamline and standardize our repair parts inventory,” he said.
The sheriff expects to receive notification of the GRIC’s final review of the grant request by October. If approved, his department will immediately order the three needed vehicles, which would be fully outfitted and available for use by the end of this year.
“With the support of our county board of supervisors, we’ve come a long way from where we were,” he said.
In other action July 28, the board:
* Approved a change order to FCI Contract for additional scope of work to the original project in the amount of $109,404.
* Approved contracts signed by the county manager for professional services with Woodson Engineering & Surveying, Inc., and with Roman Bitsuie.
* Accepted the fiscal year 2015 Emergency Management Program Grant award.
* Approved an amendment to the intergovernmental agreement between the Navajo County Flood Control District and the Town of Snowflake for the Snowflake Industrial Park Flood Improvement Project.
* Approved a Department of Corrections emergency contract to allow the housing of DOC inmates in the Navajo County Jail.
* Approved an intergovernmental rental agreement between the Navajo County Public Health Services District and the Kayenta Unified School District for classroom space for July 1, 2015, to June 30, 2016, for $774.20 per month.
* Approved the proposed annexation of Crimson Oak SLE No. 15-3 as a boundary change for the Pinetop Lakeside Sanitary District.
* Approved a memorandum of understanding between Navajo County and Eve’s Place.
* Approved tax exemptions filed as requests for redemption of waiver.
* Approved an amendment of the fiscal year 2016 Fill the Gap grant application.
* Adopted a proclamation designating September 2015 as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
* Pulled an item on distribution of Secure Rural Schools Act funding for fiscal year 2015 and any future funding from the agenda.