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Old 08-19-2004, 05:22   #1 (permalink)
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Aging police vehicles add to strain on city

Aging police vehicles add to strain on city

By Don Chance

Special to the Star-Telegram


PELICAN BAY - Pelican Bay is trying to steer its way out of a police car crisis. The force's fleet has deteriorated to nearly nothing.

The problem is the latest fiscal hurdle for a city whose only retail business closed last month, leaving it with only modest income from property taxes.

The city has three patrol cars and one animal-control vehicle. None, according to Police Chief Charles Clark, is truly dependable.

"We were down to one car at one point, and even it's got transmission problems," Clark said after last week's council meeting, at which the situation was discussed.

Clark said Pelican Bay has always bought used cars. The force's current cars, he said, are mostly worn out and beyond the point where even major repairs will last much longer. Motorcycles and bicycles, as suggested by a resident at the council meeting, are out of the question, Clark said, because of the nature of the calls his office gets.

"We're a small town, but we make a lot of arrests," he said. "Domestic violence calls, narcotics calls, burglaries. We do put people in jail." Pelican Bay uses Westworth Village jail facilities, so dependable cars are a necessity for the more than 20-mile drive. "In a case like that," he said, "motorcycles are just useless."

Mayor Marlyn Hawkins said the city is still making payments on its newest police car, a 1999 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor demo model. But to repair its persistent oil leak, Hawkins said, the engine would have to be removed at a cost of "more than it's worth." The car was damaged July 27 in a collision in Azle, but after being repaired, Hawkins said, it's in better shape than it was before the wreck.

Renee McWhorter is active in community affairs and does volunteer work with a Pelican Bay newsletter. She said that how and why the aging police cars came to be in their condition is not as important as dealing with the problem right away.

"What it boils down to is that we need new vehicles," McWhorter said. "We just gotta figure out where the money is going to come from."

Clark proposed a plan to buy used patrol cars from the Texas Department of Public Safety. The DPS, Clark said, replaces its cars every two years and sells the old ones to police departments for $8,050.

Hawkins said he agrees with Clark's proposal and wants to address the disposition of the old police cars at the next council meeting, scheduled for today. Hawkins said the city will most likely sell the old cars, apply the money raised to the purchase of a cruiser from the DPS and get a bank loan to make up the difference.

Sixteen businesses operate out of private homes, Hawkins said, and the city collects some additional sales taxes from those. But the city's income from business taxes is so small that it's ineligible for many of the civic grants that other cities can apply for, Hawkins said.

But Clark said he has no doubts about how to fund the Police Department's vehicle needs.

"I'm a firm believer that we need a tax increase," Clark said. "And if it means better protection for the citizens, I think they'll vote for it. This community is no different from any other. It deserves the same quality of protection and service as any other community."

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