'No $1,300 Oil Change In Buckingham'

Published 5:41 pm Tuesday, October 25, 2011

BUCKINGHAM – During a presentation at the Board of Supervisors' October meeting, Supervisor Brian Bates said the County's vehicle service work does appear to be spread among the vendors and that major purchases are bid out according to state law.

And, no, the County has not paid $1,300 for an oil change, he said.

“I have verified that we are in fact not paying $1,300 for an oil change. All of the charges, as near as I can tell, that we are paying are in line with industry standards,” he stated.

At the beginning of the October 11 meeting, Board of Supervisors Chairman Talbert explained that near the end of the meeting there would be a presentation on vehicle maintenance expenses for the sheriff's office. He said that following the report, there would be an additional public comment segment so that citizens would have an opportunity to comment and discuss the issue.

Subsequently, after the board completed most of its agenda, Supervisor Bates shared that he received several calls from people in his district about invoices they had seen regarding charges made for service work on sheriff's vehicles.

Bates said that at first he was unable to respond because he did not have the information. However, after obtaining the information, he said he felt it was important to share it.

He stated, “I think it is important to address whether we are paying $1,300 for oil changes or whatever.” Bates added, “I am not defending the sheriff and I am not defending anybody else. That's not my job.” Bates explained, “But the question I had came from a constituent regarding the board of supervisors' voting on money and spending it on certain things.”

Standing before a projection screen, Bates said he was going to show what the board of supervisors authorized to pay and why they authorized it.

Kitchen added, “Well, Brian, I think we all voted on this-every one of us.”

Bates went on to say that the issue that prompted questions involved printouts regarding invoices from a local vendor. He said one of the concerns focused on an invoice that indicated the county paid $1,395.75 for a transmission flush.

He explained that each month, the board receives a listing of all the claims and must approve all payments.

Projecting a listing of the invoices on the screen, he said the total of $211,870.09 included the purchase of six automobiles at a cost of $134,898. Bates said the resultant $76,972.09 is the actual amount spent on service work since January 2008 with that vendor.

He explained that eight years ago the board adopted a policy to purchase four new sheriff's vehicles annually in an effort to rotate the fleet over a four-year period. However, he noted that in 2008, the BOS went from purchasing four vehicles a year to three because of the budget.

Bates added that all new cars are bid out by the board of supervisors and they, in turn, award the bids but do so as required by law under the Virginia Procurement Act.

According to Bates, reducing the number of vehicles purchased each year probably caused some marginal increase in service cost because of the older vehicles being on the road for longer periods of time.

Going back to the $1,395.75 listing, Bates agreed that anyone looking at the printout would reasonably conclude that too much was being paid.

“However, the seven of us on the board of supervisors and the county staff all know that this printout simply has whatever the computer system will allow it to fit in that little column space. It is not an all inclusive list,” said Bates. “If any board member or member of the public has a question about an invoice, we can get follow-up information right down to the last penny from the treasurer's office or the county administrator's staff.”

With the specific invoice projected on the screen, Bates went over the entire three pages, which included what he described as “a whole bunch of different service work” on the vehicle, which was listed with 163,814 miles. He noted that with the four-vehicle rotation, that vehicle would have been rotated out.

Using the $76, 972.09 paid for service since 2008, Bates slides showed that during the 46-month period, the price for service of the 20 vehicles in the sheriff's current fleet averaged about $83.67 per car per month over a 12-month period.

Bates shared that using the lists that were being questioned, he randomly picked out 22 invoices and then pulled up the actual detailed invoices. He said of the ones he looked at, the average vehicle mileage was 105,102 miles and the average invoice cost was $586.65. He added that the type of repairs included rotors, transmission service-work that would be expected on vehicles with 100,000-plus miles.

Going a step farther, Bates said he had the staff pull up invoices since 2008 from two other major service vendors in the county. He noted the invoices from those two vendors for vehicle service totaled $51,848 and $89,153 with monthly averages of $1,127 and $1,673. He added that the work included service on all county vehicles.

“By the way, you don't have to be a board of supervisor member to find this stuff-it's all public information accessible to anybody,” stated Bates.

Sharing that one of the callers questioning the invoice listings asked why the county did not service its own vehicles, Bates said that the county studied that issue earlier this year. He said the study indicated that the labor cost that the county spent in 2009 and 2010 did not support hiring a mechanic.

Bates offered that in his 12 years on the board he has always welcomed taxpayer inquiries because he, too, wants to know where the money is going. “All of these expenditures are approved by the board of supervisors before the checks are cut on a monthly basis because all accounting runs through the treasurer's office and ultimately gets approved by the board of supervisors. This is an important check and balance for accountability,” said Bates. “And it is one reason why Buckingham has always done very well in our annual audits.”

He noted that the county's vehicle service work does appear to be spread among the vendors and that major purchases are bid out according to state law.

Bates concluded, “I do think that the board of supervisors is doing a good job monitoring where money is being spent. And, I was glad when I looked at it that I couldn't find a $1,300 oil change.”

At that point, Chairman Talbert opened the floor up for public comment. However, no one approached the podium.

Subsequently, Supervisor Joe Chambers called for an independent audit of the invoices.

Although the discussion continued for some time and drew some unsolicited comments from the audience, the motion by Chambers did not draw a second and no vote was taken. Likewise, no other motions were made regarding the issue.