Tommy Mann Jr. – For The Record

Orange County Sheriff Keith Merritt has announced he will use funds acquired through numerous seizures during previous operations conducted by personnel to purchase approximately 10 new vehicles of various makes for his agency. He has also requested another 15 vehicles be purchased by county for his agency for the coming fiscal year.

“We need vehicles bad,” Merritt said. “We are definitely behind on getting new vehicles every year, so that is why we are trying it this way. We’ve never done it this way before.”

Merritt stated he has requested the county purchase 15 patrol cars , while he plans to use asset forfeiture funds to purchase the 10 others vehicles.

Merritt stated the Orange County Sheriff’s Office received no new vehicles in 2015, while only receiving seven in 2014 and just three in 2013.

“I know the county cannot afford to purchase all 25 vehicles, so that is why I am planning to purchase 10 with the funds we have had awarded to us from state and federal agencies, and the funds we have seized from the bad guys,” Merritt continued. “Hopefully, the county will come through and purchase these 15 other vehicles, or at least most of these vehicles.”

The 10 miscellaneous vehicles will be of various makes and models, such as Ford Expeditions and Ford Explorers, which will be utilized by personnel to transport prisoners, members of the criminal investigations division and others.

“We have a lot of rural areas in the county, and we need something for those rural settings that we deal with too,” he added. “A patrol car isn’t very good for some of the dirt roads and back woods areas we have drive in.”

Merritt said the state has already negotiated contracts with automotive dealers which are pre-approved and thereby keeps Merritt from having to do the legwork of securing bids for vehicle purchases.

“Every year we do this we look at different options and we try to get the best bang for our buck,” Merritt explained. “It just so happens Dodge is probably going to be our best option this time for prices on patrol cars.”

Merritt said he has already put the plan into motion to purchase the 10 various vehicles by using the asset forfeitures and those vehicles could be in possession of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office before the new fiscal year even starts in October.

However, with budget work not yet finalized for the county and the new fiscal year still over two months away, Merritt said it could be several months before any or all of the requested 15 patrol cars are purchased and on the streets.

“It’s going to take a little time, but that’s why we have already made the request for these vehicles,” he said. “I know 15 vehicles is a lot, but to doo what’s right for the county and the citizens, we need to have these new vehicles as soon as possible.”