WILKES-BARRE – City officials say they're confident the purchase of five Ford Focus vehicles for the code enforcement and health departments will save taxpayers money by reducing mileage reimbursements paid to employees who also use their own vehicles on the job.
The cars, which were put into service around the fall of 2011, were part of an eight-vehicle purchase that also included three Ford Crown Victoria patrol cars for the police department.
The city paid a total of $155,390 for the vehicles through a lease-to-own agreement with Milham Ford, according to Drew McLaughlin, the city's administrative coordinator.
The police cars were valued at roughly $24,000 each, while the Focuses were valued at approximately $14,000.
The city's purchase of vehicles recently came under public scrutiny after council approved the purchase of a nearly $28,000 Jeep Grand Cherokee for use by Ken Pahler, a supervisor in the Department of Public Works.
Several residents questioned whether the purchase would cost the city more than if it reimbursed Pahler for mileage for using his personal vehicle.
Pahler never kept records of his mileage, so there's no way to determine if savings will be achieved.
A review of mileage reimbursements paid to code inspectors over the past two years shows the city may save money with the purchase of the Ford Focuses.
The records show the cost of the cars has been offset by a significant reduction in the amount of mileage reimbursements paid to six code inspectors through July of this year compared to 2011 and 2010.
Code inspectors utilize the city vehicles whenever possible, but some usage of private vehicles is still required because three vehicles are shared among the entire department, McLaughlin said.
The city paid a total $10,719 in mileage reimbursements in 2011 and $9,582 in 2010 to the six code officers. So far this year, just $2,585 has been paid out.
If mileage remains stable the next five months, it will pay roughly $4,400 by the end of the year -- or roughly $6,300 less than last year.
The records show Mike Simonson received the most for mileage in 2011, $4,113. He was followed by Joanne Semenza, $2,337; Marc Murphy, $1,928; Carol Smith, $1,836; and Frank Kratz, $505. Fred Pape did not receive any mileage reimbursement.
McLaughlin said the city pays $2,400 each month for the five Focuses and three Crown Victorias. Based on the value of the cars, he estimated that equates to a payment of roughly $225 per month, at most, for the Focuses, or $2,700 per year for each.
Exactly how much of a savings might actually be realized is difficult to determine because the expense of fuel, insurance and maintenance must be added to the cost.
McLaughlin said city officials believe those costs are more than covered by the $3,600 difference in lease cost versus the savings in mileage reimbursements.
"The Ford Focuses should last for quite a while and maintenance on them would be minimal for a number of years," he said. "Once the leases are paid off, the savings increase even more."