FORT WAYNE – After asking the county coroner’s office to rethink its appeal for a new vehicle last month, members of Allen County Council voted Thursday to deny the request, even though a county mechanic advised that the current car no longer be used as a first responder vehicle.
Michael Burris, chief investigator and deputy coroner, wanted to buy a new $23,134 vehicle to replace a 2001 Jeep Cherokee with 130,000 miles on it.
The take-home vehicle is used by investigators on their way to and from the office, as well as during off hours for work-related runs when called to a suicide, homicide or accident, Burris said.
Although the car is a first responder vehicle and is used for emergency situations, it would not be involved in high-speed chases like the sheriff’s department, said Council President Darren Vogt, R-3rd.
Burris said that many times, when responding to a motor vehicle crash, investigators must drive on the median or around the other vehicles to get to the scene.
Burris said he was advised by Ron McCoy, who works in the county garage, that the Jeep not be operated as an emergency vehicle.
He said 10 years is the general recommended life expectancy for vehicles, Burris said.
The Jeep would be recycled in another department, not used as an emergency vehicle, or – if not used in another department – the county garage would use it for parts, Burris said.
The county coroner’s office has one officer on call at all times, Burris said.
This year, he said, the department has had 14 occurrences where an investigator was asked to respond to two scenes at the same time.
There were probably more times that it happened, but if they do not pass away, we do not include them in our statistics, he said.
Some council members questioned the necessity of the department’s three take-home vehicles and the low mileage of the vehicles.
The Jeep acquired 6,700 miles in 2012 and 7,800 in 2013.
The staff knows the take-home vehicles are for emergency calls only and that is reflected in the low mileage, Burris said.
Maintenance has been minimal, the car has not met life expectancy, and the plans are to recycle it into the county fleet, Vogt said.
Maintenance records show the Jeep has incurred $1,059 in maintenance costs since November 2010.
Councilman Larry Brown, R-4th, questioned why the department did not keep a single car on hand to share and use as needed for the investigator on call rather than three people all using take-home cars.
Five of the seven council members voted no with Councilmen Kevin Howell, R-1st, and Bob Armstrong, R-at large, voting yes.
Councilman Bill Brown, R-at large, said that although he voted in favor of the purchase last month, he changed his mind after seeing that the Jeep did not have issues.
The County Council agreed to impose an annual license excise surtax of $20 on mopeds beginning Jan. 1.
Mopeds are not currently regulated, but under a new state law, effective at the start of next year, state registration will be required.
On one hand, it concerns me to see a new tax come into play, said Councilman Tom Harris, R-3rd. But on the other hand, the fees are important for maintaining the infrastructure.
There have been accidents and even deaths, and the number of users is climbing. I think it’s necessary to raise the awareness and importance of being on the road.