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Does state use too many 4x4s?

Report says cheaper vehicles could save Utah lots of money

SHARE Does state use too many 4x4s?

Lots of state officials are rolling over Utah's paved city streets in four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Nearly 20 percent of state government's 7,037 automobiles are 4x4 pickups or sport-utility vehicles. The figure goes up to 25 percent if heavy trucks, Highway Patrol cars and buses are excluded.

A report by the Office of the Legislative Fiscal Analyst says that's too many.

If the state were to convert half of its 1,337 Ford Explorers and Chevy Blazers to more basic Tauruses and Cavaliers, it could save from $1.3 million to $2.6 million over five years, according to fiscal analyst Kevin Walthers' report. Four-wheel-drive vehicles cost an estimated $2,000 to $4,000 more, depending on the model, the report says.

While some state workers routinely need 4x4 trucks for mountainous terrain and snow-covered passes, the report says it is unlikely that the state needs the number it has in the fleet. Many belong to the Department of Natural Resources, which requires frequent off-road driving, though urban agencies such as the Attorney General's Office have four-wheel-drives as well.

"I don't know whether I agree or disagree" that there are too many, said Steve Saltzgiver, director of the state Division of Fleet Operations. "It pretty much mirrors private industry."

State agencies currently order vehicles through Fleet Operations and pay for them out of their own budgets.

Walthers, though, recommended to the Legislature's Executive Appropriations Committee that lawmakers adopt a policy requiring all state agencies to obtain legislative approval to replace any 4x4 in the future. Absent such approval, he said, Fleet Operations should replace them with sedans or two-wheel-drive pickups.

Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, agrees the state has a disproportionate amount of SUVs in the motor pool.

"I think if someone's got a choice, they would want an SUV. They're a little nicer to drive. They're kind of the thing right now," he said.

But Garn, who serves on the Executive Appropriations Committee, says state government should opt for more sensible transportation to get from point A to point B. Many Utahns would prefer the options that the trendy four-wheel-drive vehicles provide but can't afford them.

"I don't think we're any better than the average family out there," he said.

Attorney General Jan Graham, who has a red Jeep Cherokee, is among those administrators who drive state-owned SUVs.

"She travels primarily alone, sometimes at odd hours. Utah is known for its harsh winters and inclement weather. She probably opted for four-wheel-drive for safety reasons," said Tracey Tabet, Attorney General's Office spokeswoman.

The office has at least three other SUVs that attorneys and investigators can use as needed. One investigator, she said, often drives to hazardous waste dumps in remote areas. Sometimes attorneys need to transport boxes of files to trials across the state, Tabet said.

The Legislature has been trying to get a better handle on the number and types of state vehicles for several years. It created the Fleet Operations Division three years ago to control costs and bring greater oversight to the thousands of cars and trucks the state owns. While it has now identified most state-owned automobiles, Fleet Operations is still finding some it didn't know about, such as the five 4th District Court cars managers recently discovered were not in the state database.

"We are finding vehicles even as we speak," Saltzgiver told legislators this month.

In his report, Walthers also recommended:

The Legislature approve the purchase of all new vehicles added to the fleet.

Fleet Operations regularly audit state agencies to ensure accurate reporting of vehicle usage.

Fleet Operations re-evaluate its alternative fuels policy as a means to save money.

Prior to 1997, there were five major state fleets — the departments of Transportation, Public Safety, Natural Resources, Administrative Services and Higher Education, comprising Utah's nine colleges and universities. To date, Transportation (excluding heavy trucks), Public Safety and Administrative Services have been consolidated under Fleet Operations with Natural Resources being phased in over the next five years. Higher Education remains exempt while officials gather data about the use of its 1,800 vehicles.

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