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County ready for new vehicle service
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Once comments from legal counsel come back, Effingham County commissioners will go ahead with a new vehicle maintenance contract.

Commissioners are expected to approve an agreement with First Services to maintain the county’s fleet of nearly 380 vehicles. Once it’s finalized, First Services will supplant OMI as the county’s automotive service provider. That deal with OMI is separate from the contract for OMI’s work on county roads.

County staff reviewed what it would take to conduct vehicle maintenance in house and eventually narrowed the proposals down to three firms — First Services, All Star and Penske.

First Services had the contract years ago before commissioners opted to go with OMI.

“At the time, there were a lot of complaints,” Commissioner Hubert Sapp said. “If you get a good service, you usually don’t change it.”

County finance director Joanna Floyd said staff spoke with governments along the East Coast that had used First Services for at least five years.

“They spoke very highly,” she said. “If there were any problems, they were resolved quickly.”

Just how much the county has spent and will spend on vehicle maintenance also came into question. Commissioners asked how much maintaining the county’s vehicle fleet will cost. Sheriff Jimmy McDuffie said he couldn’t find out exactly what the figure is.

“Nobody could tell me how much we were spending,” he said. “It is invoiced so many different ways.”

The sheriff said that of the comments the review committee got, First Vehicle came back with the best recommendations. The county has been searching what to do with vehicle maintenance after department heads and county officials became dissatisfied with the service they were getting.

The contract with OMI’s vehicle services division ended months ago, but it has been extended on a month-to-month basis.

“We do what we have to do to survive,” McDuffie said.

Some work — such as body work — can’t be done by First Vehicle’s Effingham shop. Also, they would need a transmission specialist to do transmission work there and it is not expected they would have enough work to keep that person busy.

There was still sentiment that the county could perform the work better itself.

“I’m still of the mindset we can do it ourselves cheaper,” McDuffie said. “But it’s got to be done right and we don’t have time to do it right.”

It’s going to take a while.

Commissioner Myra Lewis also backed trying to do it in-house.

“I thought we could do it better and cheaper in our own departments,” she said. “We’d be eliminating a management level.”

But that would mean hiring people and that would take time, McDuffie pointed out.

“This company is already set up,” he said. “Of all the ones we interviewed, the comments we got back, this was the best one. They assured us they can do our reporting like we asked them to.”

Commissioners approved the contract unanimously, but discovered Assistant County Attorney Eric Gotwalt’s comments on it had not been addressed. Gotwalt was busy in court after the contract was delivered to him to be reviewed.

“Anything that has not been reviewed by Eric does not need to be on the agenda,” Phillips said.

Williams said he did not know it had not approved by legal counsel until the meeting.

Sapp said he wished to withdraw his vote approving the contract since Gotwalt had not gone over the contract.

Commissioners eventually agreed to approve the deal pending the assistant county attorney’s remarks.