A Vilas County committee has recommended approval of spending approximately $124,000 to convert 18 sheriff’s department squad cars to liquid propane (LP) gas instead of gasoline.
About $20,000 of the $124,000 would be used to construct an LP gas refueling station on county property for the county vehicles.
The law enforcement and emergency management committee has discussed the proposal several times, but Thursday at its regular monthly meeting, the committee unanimously recommended forwarding a resolution to the full county board seeking the funds.
The committee hopes the resolution can be placed on the agenda for the county’s board’s Jan 28 meeting.
Because none of the funds were budgeted for the project in 2014, and because the funds will have to come from the county’s general fund, a two-thirds majority of the county board will need to approve the proposal for it to move ahead.
The sheriff’s department, in 2013, converted one patrol car, a 2013 Dodge Charger to use the LP fuel and has had positive results. Another squad car, a 2011 Dodge Charger, has also been converted to use LP gas, but is still in Michigan being tested for certification. Both of those conversions were completed free of charge by American Alternative Fuels, Inc. The company will provide an additional six free installations which will leave the county with 18 cars that would have to be converted.
Officials from the sheriff’s department say they’ve witnessed very little loss in power or miles-per-gallon with the switch to LP gas on the one squad car and the significant cost different in the prices paid for gasoline and LP gas will provide significant long-term savings.
According to officials, using the current prices for unleaded gasoline at about $3.23 per-gallon and LP gas at $1.50 per-gallon, the data indicates the department could have annual fuel savings of approximately $46,593.
“We’re also eligible to submit our LP gas gallons used per-year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 50-cents per-gallon subsidy,” Sheriff Joe Fath said. “This tax subsidy would provide additional cost savings of approximately $60,000 annually or $300,000 for five years.”
Vilas County Finance Director Jason Hilger said the county will also recoup the costs for the conversion of the squads over a relatively short period of time.
“We’ll be able to get a return on our investment in a little over two years,” Hilger said. “And the units can be taken out of the squad cars when it’s time for the county to replace them and they can be installed in the new vehicles. They can be moved from vehicle to vehicle.”
Hilger also said that employees from the Vilas County Highway Department will receive training on how to install and maintain the equipment so in the future county workers can install them in other vehicles.
In 2013 the sheriff’s department poured a concrete slab for a refueling station in Arbor Vitae at the county highway department garage. However, additional costs for installing fencing and providing electrical power to the site will be incurred.
Officials said that cost is expensive because explosion-proof wiring is needed for safety precautions. Officials say they are hopeful to receive $20,000 from the Clean Air Act to help offset these costs.
Members of the committee were enthusiastic about the extensive anticipated cost savings the county could see once all of the vehicles have the conversion completed.
“Sometimes you have to spend some money to save some money,” committee member Chris Mayer said. “By us spending this money now, we’re going to really see some huge savings later on.”
Fath said he has talked to local LP gas distributors about the current shortage of the fuel in some areas.
“I was told it will have no impact on us,” Fath said. “We’ll be able to obtain the fuel and we will still see significant cost savings.”
Fath reported that money spent on overtime in his department is down and he believes much of the reason for the savings is due to a nearly fully-staffed department.
“We’ve had less overtime recently than in the past because our vacant positions are pretty much filled,” Fath said.
Fath also reported that Nancy Sippl, who had formerly served as a correctional officer in the Vilas County jail, is now returning to work for the county once again.
“She moved to St. Croix County and was working there, but her life situation has changed and she is moving back to the area and will work for us,” Fath said. “We’re happy to have her back with us.”
Joe VanDeLaarschot may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.