Sheriff’s department officials were taken by surprise when eight brand new, decal-laden patrol vehicles showed up at the Scotland County Courthouse earlier this month despite no agreement, formal or otherwise, with the dealership involved.
The sheriff's department had been considering whether to move up its vehicle lease/purchase schedule since late last year, but nothing had been finalized. The county Board of Commissioners had yet to vote on the matter or to even see a contract when representatives of the Bobby Jones Ford dealership in Augusta, Ga. showed up in Laurinburg with the new vehicles.
To complicate matters, Sheriff Shep Jones said that the vehicles came equipped with on-board cameras, which the county cannot afford on all eight cars.
“For us to have these vehicles without cameras would leave us highly exposed ,” said Jones, who would have preferred to order only seven vehicles, each equipped with the approximately $5,000 cameras. Citing the litigious climate, Jones believes the cameras would save the county money and protect both the public and his deputies.
County Manger Kevin Patterson said he expected to see a contract for board approval about two weeks ago, but “eight cars showed up instead.”
The cars were financed through Ford Motor Company at a 4.75 percent interest rate, a figure which Patterson said was “not even close to acceptable.”
Were the county commissioners to decide to purchase vehicles Finance Officer Charles Nichols said that they could be financed at a less-than-1.5 percent interest rate with either Sun Trust or BB&T banks.
Commissioner Bob Davis said that he “did not think a whole lot” of the dealership’s decision to ship the cars without a purchase agreement of any kind.
“I agree,” said Jones, adamant that there was no agreement made between his office and Bobby Jones Ford.
“I don’t just go out and buy vehicles (without going through the proper county process),” he said. “The vehicles just showed up.”
Jones and Patterson both agreed that vehicle pricing was fair and acknowledged that the dealership has extensive experience in providing fleet vehicles for law enforcement.
“These are top notch, top quality vehicles,” said Jones, adding that there has still been no documentation signed with the dealership and that he would need only call them to have the cars returned.
“I’m not questioning price or their experience, I am talking about (a problem) with somebody driving up to your door with eight vehicles that you have theoretically not ordered,” Davis said.
The commissioners nearly voted to approve the purchase of seven of the vehicles before being advised by Commissioner Whit Gibson to delay a decision until their regularly scheduled meeting on February 4.
“I want them to eat a car,” said Gibson, encouraging the county to negotiate with the dealer for the final vehicle, considering it has already been painted and customized with decals at considerable expense.
“We are weaker (in negotiating) if we go ahead and approve buying the other seven,” Gibson said.
At that point the board agreed to wait until its February meeting to make a final decision while county officials attempt to negotiate a more favorable deal for the eight vehicles and cameras.
Officials with the dealership could not be reached at presstime.