Waste Watch: State vehicle fleet

The West Virginia state fleet consists of thousands of vehicles costing millions of dollars to purchase and operate, but there are numbers that just don't add up. (WCHS/WVAH photo)

The West Virginia state fleet consists of thousands of vehicles costing millions of dollars to purchase and operate, but there are numbers that just don't add up.

According to the West Virginia Office of Fleet Management, West Virginia has about 7,600 vehicles which weigh less than one ton.

However, Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Pat Reed said "to date, our records indicate that 10,504 license plate registrations have been issued for state vehicles."

That's a difference of about 3,000 unaccounted for plates, which by the way, never expire.

“The biggest concern we have with the state fleet is we can't really identify what the state has. If we ask, we need a solid number what do we have? Nobody can actually tell us exactly what we have,” Del. Gary Howell (R) Mineral County said.

The DMV said it does not monitor exactly how many of the plates are still in use today. Some may have been removed due to accidents, mechanical failure or age.

Reed said fleet management is responsible for auditing and tracking state vehicles and their usage after they get those green tags, but the acting secretary of administration said fleet management does not track plates created by the DMV.

Acting Secretary of the West Virginia Department of Administration, Jane Pickens, said she was not an expert in the DMV's process.

“I cannot speak to DMV or DMV's processes. I'm not an expert on who gets them,” Mary Jane Pickens said.

They're told to make a title, they make it. They make a title and a plate. That's what they do, so you know.

“I can't speak to whether they have a correct number of green plates on state vehicles or not,” Pickens said.

They can't either. That's the problem.

Pickens said through the creation of the fleet management office, which has an annual budget of $9.7 million, the state has a much better idea now than it used too about how many vehicles it owns and operates.

“What we're looking at doing now is requiring all state agencies to provide a list with the vehicle identification numbers of what they have and request new license plates. And once they do that we'll issue the new license plates. Then we'll have a list with a (vehicle identification) number assigned to a specific plate. We know the car exists. And with these new ones, we'll probably do a two-year renewal on them,” Howell said.

“I don't have any particular criticisms of the plan,” Pickens said.

Howell said now it is too easy for a green license plate to get lost in the system and wind up on a vehicle it's not assigned to, or even worse, in a filing cabinet for nearly a decade.

“We had reports of one that they had gotten rid of the vehicle. The tag got placed in a file cabinet and for at least eight years the file cabinet was basically insured for full coverage as if it was on the highway,” Howell said.

Howell also wants to centralize the purchase and disposal of state vehicles so that the numbers on what's coming and going are all kept in one place.

“Any process whereby we are able to get a better handle on the number of cars and how they go through the system is probably not a bad thing,” Pickens said.

“The primary thing is to put the taxpayers first, save the taxpayers' money. And the vehicle fleet appears to be too big. I think we find out once we get a handle on the actual numbers we'll have some idea. My fear is we're probably going to find some cars are just completely missing and no record of whatever happened to them. And we're probably going to find a few that we didn't even know we owned,” Howell said.

Howell said it will take a couple of years to get a firm grip on state fleet numbers, but said he hopes to introduce the first step during the next session.

It would get rid of all state license plates which never expire and issue new tags which must be renewed every two years.

When you're talking about the state fleet, you're talking about big money. Over the past four years West Virginia has purchased about 2,700 vehicles which weigh a ton or less.

Spending for the fleet also totals $63 million, which is an average of $23,000 a vehicle

Additionally, not every state agency operates under the state fleet maintenance and fueling program. Some agencies like the West Virginia State Police handle that on their own.

In the most recent figures available, just one year costs the state more than $10 million in fuel and maintenance, and that number is for only about half of the fleet.

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