Current trustees at a La Grange Village Board meeting on May 14 got some harsh feedback from a former La Grange trustee after they voted down a request from the Village's chief of police to purchase new patrol cars for officers.
Former trustee Nancy Kenney told some trustees that they needed to remember that La Grange's staff are professionals and not to micromanage them in their needs.
“If you find that you are more often than not voting against the recommendations of staff, you are not being heroes, you are obstructionists,” Kenny said.
Kenny directed her comments toward trustees Michael Horvath, Jim Palermo, Jeff Nowak and Mark Kuchler, who all voted against Chief Michael Holub's request to purchase new squad cars for the village.
Replacement of the village's current patrol cars had been budgeted by trustees in November last year as part of the Equipment Replacement Fund. Holub asked trustees on Monday evening to approve the $155,000 allocated in the fund for the purchase of the new vehicles. The funds would have provided for the purchase of six new Chevy Caprice patrol cars.
Move to Three-Year Purchase Cycle Comes at a Cost
In the past, La Grange has purchased new squad cars on a two-year cycle, Holub told trustees at the meeting. After purchasing new cars in 2009, the village moved to a three-year replacement cycle to contain costs. The switch to a three-year cycle has come at a cost of an additional $15,000 in maintenance repairs for the vehicles in order to keep them operational. Additionally, Holub told trustees, the frequency of the repairs has reduced the department's productivity as one car has been in the repair shop each week with the department losing the vehicle for an average of two days each time.
Trustees Grill Chief
Trustees Palermo and Horvath pressed Holub on whether the village could get an additional year out of the vehicles, why they needed repairs so often and about getting a deeper breakdown of numbers on how long each day the engines were running.
"I'm on board for having reliable cars," Horvath said. "But my question is, what is a reliable car?"
Even though the cars only have an average of 63,000 miles on them, Holub said, the engines are being run for an estimated 20 hours a day and are operated by officers driving back and forth across a small village with many stops and starts, which is more intensive on an engine than highway driving.
President Asperger attempted to clarify what trustees were concerned about, to which Horvath replied that he was questioning whether the village could get an additional year out of the vehicles they already had.
"The answer is no, they will not carry us through the year," Holub replied.
Trustee Mark Langan reminded fellow trustees that the purchase cycle was already extended a year and that they had planned on replacing the vehicles this year and had the money to pay for them.
"We as a board made the decision to purchase cars this year," Langan said to fellow trustees, and asked Holub how many vehicles he had purchased in the past on behalf of police departments.
Holub responded that he would estimate it was well over 100 cars, and did not feel the current cars were safe to keep for another year.
Trustees Request Waiting a Month to Discuss Purchase of Cars, Village Loses Opportunity to Save
Trustees Horvath, Palermo, Nowak and Kuchler suggested that the discussion of whether to purchase new cars wait until after the board discusses
"I fully agree that when doing the budget, new cars were on the purchase list," Kuchler said. "Unfortunately, and some cuts need to be made. It's not my intention to do that this year. I would say all these purchases need to be delayed until we make those cuts."
Kuchler, along with Palermo, Nowak and Horvath, that would have added less than $40 to the average resident's bills this year. The increase would have added an additional $175,000 to the village's budget. Because trustees voted against the increase, La Grange has had to go into deficit spending this year and will have to find a way to fill a $130,000 hole in budget now that will come with increased cuts at the village. Trustees are planning to discuss what cuts to make in June.
Holub warned that if trustees waited until next month to purchase the cars, the village would lose its opportunity purchase them at a reduced rate negotiated by the state. The village would have to wait until next year to get the state bid price again. Holub added that if the village went out to bid on its own, they would end up paying more for the cars this year.
Board Votes No on New Cars, President Asperger 'Concerned' by Result
After nearly 45 minutes of discussion, President Asperger called a vote on the request. The purchase request was voted down 4-3, with trustees Horvath, Palermo, Nowak and Kuchler voting no. Trustees Holder and Langan voted in favor, and later in the meeting also expressed frustration with their fellow trustees for voting against already budgeted items and hampering the village staff's ability to do their jobs.
"I’m very concerned that the board discussion of this issue is couched in a budget analysis, but is without due respect of the considered judgment of expert staff," Asperger said. "Let us not pretend we now better than our professional staff. We need to rely on the persons we hire.”