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Aging Fleet Paints a Picture of City Budget Constraints

August 19, 2010

The city of Omaha, Neb.'s red 1988 Kenworth is a symbol of how cities under budget constraints must deal with the challenging times. The truck has 774,000 miles on it, and it's still part of regular operations, according to the Omaha World Herald.

The truck is used to haul sewage, and because the truck is used almost entirely on the highway, it can handle some miles. The city hopes to get it to a million miles, said Marc McCoy, Omaha's equipment services manager.

Such a high mileage vehicle can have its disadvantages, of course. Although delaying big purchases is an easy way to save money, repair costs also go up as vehicles age. The older fleet also takes more gasoline and oil than newer vehicles, McCoy said.

The city spent $64 million repairing its fleet and other equipment from 2002 through 2008.

McCoy oversees a maintenance lot with 29 mechanics who are responsible for keeping the city's 1,300 vehicles, as well as other equipment, up and running.

Even small repairs can require significant downtime, he said. When wiring goes bad, his team can spend weeks looking for the faulty line.

Repairs for the city's park fleet can be tricky because several tractors have been around since the 1960s. In many cases, the parts don't exist any more, so city mechanics try to make their own in the welding shop.

The department hasn't purchased new vehicles in years, but this year it's asking for $46,000 in new equipment. That would help, Bench said, but it's not close to the $500,000 he could budget in better times. He is considering buying some pickup trucks at auction.

And an aging fleet can impact public safety. In the past three months, one of the city's Crown Victoria police cruisers with 175,000 miles has been in the shop five times. Its rack and pinion was replaced, and its transmission and air conditioning were repaired. The $3,500 in repairs is more than half the car's Blue Book value.

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