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Island County evaluates hybrids within its motor pool

Despite chilly temperatures, filling up a gas tank in recent weeks can make a person sweat with gas prices way past the $4 mark.

Now imagine having to fill up 131 gas tanks.

With an eye on next year’s budget, the Island County motor pool is considering its options on how to save money while running a “greener” fleet. County officials are collecting data on vehicle use and as part of the research, they will also evaluate the performance of its hybrid vehicles.

What the hybrid data will tell county officials could help set trends for the future.

Island County bought its third set of hybrid vehicles for its fleet earlier this year. Two Toyota Prius’ were added to the motor pool, bringing the total number of hybrids to eight.

As the hybrids could be an alternative for the motor pool in the future, the data collected could be important, said Betty Kemp, Island County’s General Services director, who oversees the motor pool.

“It’s going to be interesting to see what the return on the money will be,” Kemp said. “We don’t know if four years from now the maintenance cost will outweigh the savings in gas.”

However, no numbers have been tallied yet.

“We’re getting ready for the budget in August,” Kemp said. “We’re getting ready to share with the commissioners what we’ve found.”

The county’s motor pool has 131 vehicles, excluding the roads department and other work vehicles. The number will fluctuate through the year as older vehicles are retired and new ones are added to the fleet.

As hybrids save on fuel cost, they are still relatively high in acquisition cost, however.

The eight hybrids ranged from $21,342 to $24,274 when they were purchased.

The expenses for repairs, maintenance and operation last year was $28,172 for all cars. That excludes the sheriff’s department, which has its own budget line for repairs.

But data is not only collected to plan smarter and safe money. Besides the financial factor, there is the environmental impact.

“It’s definitely way up there on our priority list,” Kemp said.

Kemp said she is tossing around all kinds of ideas as she works on strategies to keep county employees moving, while coping with high gas prices and trying to lower the county’s carbon footprint.

“Do we cut our fleet and everybody checks them out, or do we assign 10 to the health department, 10 to the assessors office?” Kemp said.

As hybrids with the county logo on the doors become a more common sight on Island County roads, the conversion will be a slow one.

And an all-hybrid motor pool is unlikely, Kemp said.

The cars that are driven the most in the island county fleet — the sheriff’s cruisers — are not available as hybrids yet.

Michaela Marx Wheatley can be reached at 221-5300 or mmarxwheatley@southwhidbeyrecord.com.

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