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In response, both departments have had to creatively cut corners to make ends meet.

The fire department has eliminated four of its 22 fleet vehicles by combining their uses. For example, Anderson said the city would have to pay $550,000 to replace a fire engine and a vehicle used to fight grass fires. But combining those needs into one multipurpose engine costs $320,000 instead.

Purchasing demonstration ambulances, like those used briefly at trade shows, has also saved the fire department money.

To reduce repair costs, Anderson said firefighters who are also certified mechanics are often paid $35 to $40 an hour in overtime wages to work on equipment and vehicles, rather than paying a commercial vendor $125 to $150 an hour for the same work. The department also relies on a partnership with the school district, in which the fire department can utilize district mechanics to cut back on repair costs. Cook said the police department has decreased mileage by spreading officers' vehicle use around, so that cars are driven two shifts per day rather than three. Older cars that can no longer be used on patrol are driven to Santa Rosa when officers have to appear in court, so that newer cars don't accrue unnecessary mileage.

Cook said police departments normally surplus vehicles that have racked up 100,000 miles or so, but his department needs these vehicles in the patrol pool.

A decrease in personnel has decelerated the police department's vehicle crisis, but Cook was still forced to use asset seizure dollars confiscated from drug cases to replace a motorcycle and four Dodge chargers in 2012.

"Without asset seizure, I'm not sure what we would have done," Cook said. "We've cut back every way we possibly can."

City manager John Brown said his recommendation to the city council will be to establish a sales tax measure that would raise the necessary funds to improve the vehicle replacement program, while addressing the city's other needs, like roads.

Councilmember Mike Healy said the expenditure level proposed by the replacement program would be a "significant chunk of a tax measure," and would need to be weighed with a lot of other competing priorities.

But Healy acknowledged that "there are maintenance issues, performance issues, and there are a lot of vehicles in the city's fleet that have stuck around a lot longer than they really should have."

Anderson said without a tax measure as a funding source, utilizing a lease or purchasing vehicles through credit could potentially help. He said if the city considered only servicing priority one vehicles — which require the most immediate replacement — the general fund price tag would drop from $53 million to $31 million.

But with general funds still at $100,000 a year, Cook said the police department, like other city agencies, cannot plan to purchase new vehicles this year.

"The good news is, they recognize it's a problem, and they're taking steps to look at a fleet replacement program," Cook said. "But without funding, it really doesn't matter."

(Contact Allison Jarrell at allison.jarrell@arguscourier.com)