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2009-01-14 / Opinions

Retired fleet manager defends costs, performance

Retired fleet manager defends costs, performance  Dear Editor,

I read your article in the Dec. 17 edition of the Chesterfield Observer. I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your balanced approach to the article. I have a special interest in the article because I [retired] as the county's automotive fleet manager effective Dec. 31.

I want to take this opportunity to provide some comments on two points on the management of the county and school board's vehicle fleets. First, the original 30 percent fuel markup was in place when the county hired me as fleet manager in September 1998. The markup had been in place for so long that no one could remember who established it or the basis for the amount of the markup. The revenue from the fuel sales helped to balance the fleet management budget. Because the county labor rate was so low, the fuel revenue subsidized maintenance expenses for many departments.

The division established cost centers in 2000 in an effort to identify real costs and establish generally accepted accounting practices. More than six years ago, I recommended to the county leaders that we hire a consultant to come in, design a budget and create labor rates and fuel charges that would reflect the true costs of operations. However, the fuel prices were relatively low, and no one wanted to spend the money or take the time to redesign the budget at that time. It was not until the most recent spike in fuel costs that suddenly everyone became interested in lowering the cost of vehicle fuel. Mercury Associates completed its study in June 2008.

The second point I would like to make is that many county and school board officials were quick to condemn the 30 percent markup, but virtually none of them took the time to look at how the division spent the revenue from the markup. As an internal service fund, the division is responsible for generating sufficient revenue to cover all administrative and operating costs, including salaries and benefits.

The Fleet Management Division has made evolutionary changes in the past decade. Much of the revenue from the fuel markup went to purchasing state-of-the-art test, measuring and diagnostic equipment used to maintain modern vehicles with electronic engines and transmissions, installation of automotive lifts, maintenance of the division's aging infrastructure, including repairs to roofs, HVAC systems, and repairs and replacement of above and underground fuel storage systems. We also used a portion of the revenue to provide manufacturers' technical training for our automotive technicians. As a result of our investment in the right tools, education for our staff and benchmarking with other jurisdictions, we have provided the Chesterfield County government and Chesterfield County Public Schools the best vehicle maintenance management in its history. The daily availability rates and maintenance turnaround time, customer service and front line customer comments attests to that.

In the past 10 years, the Fleet Management Division has an extensive list of achievements. It was one of the first two county organizations to earn the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality's Environmental Excellence and Exemplary Environmental Excellence Environmental Management program certifi- cations. The division is currently the only fleet management organization in North America to earn the ISO 14001 Environmental Management registration and has done so for the past three years, the last two of which has been without a single nonconformance.

We have the only local government automotive apprenticeship program in the Commonwealth of Virginia that has been approved by both the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry and the U.S. Department of Labor. The National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence has recognized our Consolidated Vehicle Maintenance Facility with its Blue Seal Award for the last five consecutive years.

We are the only fleet management organization that I know of that has an active automotive warranty and recall repair center approved by DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Corporation and International Trucks. Our technicians perform the warranty and recall work in-house, and the manufacturer pays us for the work. This process has generated tens of thousands of dollars in outside revenue for the county annually.

We have overcome the woefully inadequate facilities, personnel shortages, increasing workloads and rapidly changing technology to provide world-class customer service to the county and school board vehicle fleets.

I hope this letter provides some enlightenment on the Fleet Management Division operations. Robert J. Pratt [Former] Automotive Fleet Manager Fleet Management Division  

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