Based on the argument he gave on Wednesday, the drive to work for Schuylkill County Chief Tax Assessor Kent Hatter is far more dangerous than yours.
Telling the Schuylkill County Commissioners why they should approve his plan to spend more than $90,000 to get 3 Subaru Imprezas for the Tax Assessment office at the Courthouse, Hatter really stressed the need for safety.
What he didn’t stress was the amount of work he put into finding the absolute best deal for Schuylkill County.
But his argument for why we need to stress “safety” with these vehicles was hilarious.
“As we know,” Hatter said on Wednesday, being totally serious, “Our roads are not safe like they were years ago. It’s a different world out there. We have road rage incidents.”
So, what Hatter’s saying is that our reassessment field appraisers could be subject to road rage incidents.
First of all, that’s one great way to get people lined up to want to do this job. And secondly … seriously?
“It’s a different time,” he said. “Safety for these employees is paramount. They’re out there with the public.”
To bring you up to speed: Hatter wants to lease 3 brand new Subaru Imprezas for employees of his office to conduct field work related to the upcoming property tax reassessment. His plan includes getting $30K+ cars on leases from Steve Moyer Subaru, of Leesport, Berks County. (READ: Tax Assessment Office Wants 3 New Cars for Property Reassessment)
Side note: Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a Subaru (probably) but the optics on an American government buying a Japanese car hits weird. If we’re going to buy these vehicles, is it a sin to insist that they’re American vehicles?
Weak Argument for Buying Schuylkill County Reassessment Subarus
But why are we buying these cars at all? Well, these are the reasons why Hatter believes it’s imperative the Tax Assessment office get these Subarus. It’s all about safety, as he said. His definition of safety, apparently, is putting County employees in a compact car equipped with a dashcam (maybe) and GPS.
Not sure about you, but we feel safer just thinking about it:
New Vehicles are Safer, More Reliable
OK, it’s hard to argue against new vehicles being more reliable. And the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration gives the Impreza its best 5-star safety rating. But anyone can make that same argument for any relatively new vehicle and a lot of older vehicles, too.
After that, Hatter starts reaching and grossly overvaluing on-board GPS. His other reasons for needing these vehicles, in particular, are:
Equipped with GPS and “Other Navigation Features”
He never explains what the “other navigation features” are that come with these Imprezas but Hatter speaks of GPS like people speak of that new space telescope.
He believes the GPS will help “protect our employees” and let him know where they are at any given time.
Hatter also says the Subarus have a “plethora of other safety features” but doesn’t go into details. He, getting some help on the topic from Commissioner Boots Hetherington, seems to believe that most new vehicles don’t have GPS trackers installed in some form. But according to data at TheZebra.com, about 78 million vehicles on American roads have GPS trackers installed and in a few years, about 98% of all new vehicles will have them.
But why is having GPS on these vehicles so important? Well, according to Hatter, the County will have an idea where the cars are at all time. But apparently it’s more about safety than anything, with Hatter.
Reducing “Privacy Issues”
It’s wild to think that after defending these new vehicles because they have GPS installed that you can argue they “may reduce some privacy issues” but that’s what the public heard on Wednesday from someone who REALLY wants these Subarus.
Now, maybe the wording on that wasn’t exactly right from Hatter but basically what he was trying to suggest is that a field assessor going out in their own vehicle could encounter an angry property owner who eventually tracks them down based on the vehicle they drove that day.
Well, they wouldn’t be able to do that if we all had matching Subarus, would they?
“Each one of our field appraisers has a different car. Some of them are unique,” Hatter said Wednesday. “They could be out there, the homeowner doesn’t like what they have, and the next thing … something happens to the vehicle.”
Of course, the property owner has a legal right to appeal whatever decision is made on their property during reassessment, so we’re not sure of the likelihood of this happening. But according to Hatter, apparently this reassessment stuff could get pretty dicey.
Let’s just thank God they have that GPS.
“Having an instant location … it’ll be a good thing,” Hatter said.
Hatter also says that he’s thinking about getting these Imprezas equipped with dash cams, as another safety measure.
Now you know if the hypothetical situation Hatter presents – what with the road rage and angry property owners and the different times – were reversed, the County would lose or hide that dashcam footage in a heartbeat.
But don’t worry about that. He says anyone who gets to drive one of these coveted Imprezas will have to pass a safe-and-defensive driver course prior to getting out on the road.
What’s Not Paramount? Getting the Most for Your Money
Even if you buy that safety argument, you can’t argue that Hatter’s plan has your best financial interest in mind. And he had few answers on Wednesday on how he ended up coming to the Commissioners asking them to approve this $90K+ purchase … sorry, lease.
Based on the answers he gave Wednesday, we’re only left to assume that he knows someone at Steve Moyer Subaru, the Berks County car dealer where Hatter’s proposing we lease these Imprezas, and did as little work as possible to be fiscally conservative.
He did, however, say that because these cars have GPS, the Tax Assessment office will be able to keep track of and control their “exact costs” of running these cars around the dangerous roads of Schuylkill County. You can trust the Courthouse will “control” the cost, right? They’re so good with all your other money.
And doesn’t it feel good to know that someone will be at the Courthouse tracking and analyzing mileage data to maybe come up with better ways of conducting a property tax reassessment?
That was the only somewhat fiscally-minded argument Hatter made for leasing these Imprezas. The rest?
Let’s look at how the Courthouse wouldn’t be looking out for your money if the Commissioners approve this half-baked plan.
It’s always better to lease a car, right?
Almost no one believes that it’s better to lease a vehicle than to buy. The only people who believe that make a living selling people on vehicle leases. As a government, especially one that loves to spend money, if you’re going to spend money, spend it.
If the Tax Assessment office needs these cars so badly, wouldn’t he argue that the County just pay for the vehicles up front? We’ll end up paying $30,395 per vehicle over the course of 5 years with this lease. A Subaru Impreza has a base price just under $20,000.
That’s some expensive GPS and a dashcam? What are we leasing, the keys?
We’re basically losing money if we don’t get these cars.
The Tax Assessment office wants you to know that we’re not just going to get these cars and at the end of the lease, they’re useless.
Hatter did some math “off the top of his head” before the Commissioners, suggesting that 60% depreciation on these cars when the lease term is up says we have a trio of $12,000 highly-used but battle-tested Subaru Imprezas.
The possibilities are endless. We could give the cars back or we can buy them out and either throw a sticker on them and sell them or run them into the ground for other County uses.
“It’s an asset. It’s not going to be worth zero,” he told the Commissioners. “It’s not all-or-nothing. There will be some benefits to it. It’ll be paid off. It’ll be ours.”
Great, just what we need …
Maybe we can customize these whips and enter them into Cruise Nights across Schuylkill County. Who knows?
We’re not getting the deal.
The worst part of this whole deal – ignoring the debate on if these cars are even needed – is the way it was crafted.
Finding ways to buy things without putting purchases up for bids is a pastime at the Schuylkill County Courthouse. For these Subarus, we’re doubling, nay … tripling, even quadrupling down on that way of handling the public’s money.
Typically, when the Commissioners approve a big-ticket purchase that makes you wonder if it should have been put out for bids from various contractors, they’ll use the defense that somehow it wasn’t required and that they’re buying from a COSTARS contractor. That’s a co-op, of sorts, which provides local governments with a pool of state-approved contractors from which to buy, describing it in the simplest of terms.
Well, none of that has happened so far with these Subarus.
- No bids: This purchase doesn’t have to go out for bids because it’s not a purchase. It’s a lease. So, apparently bids don’t apply here. We found that out on Wednesday.
- No COSTARS vendor: “No,” Hatter said when asked if Steve Moyer Subaru was one of those COSTARS vendors.
- Financing: All indications are Hatter crafted this deal on his own. As far as finding the best financing rates, Hatter said, “I was told Mauch Chunk (Trust Company) does a lot of our vehicles.”
- Shopping local: Nope. Commissioner Gary Hess was the only one to even offer any resistance to the proposal. And it wasn’t really resistance. He asked Hatter about the COSTARS angle and then asked if he’d shopped locally before going to the dealer in Leesport. Hatter paused for a second and said, “Yes.” Hess asked about the prices he got back from those local dealers, if they were competitive and Hatter replied, “Umm, one did get back to me.”
Now, we’re not sure how car shopping works where you live but typically dealerships will at least get back to you with a price or options to consider rather quickly. So, of all the car dealerships in Schuylkill County right now, only 1 got back to Hatter?
Commissioner Boots Hetherington did ask about the price, briefly. But ended up making a defense for it, even though it was an absurd defense.
He asked, “Now, this $30,000 does sound like a lot, but that includes all this GPS equipment?”
That only shows Boots knows zero about how much GPS costs on a vehicle and how widely available it really is.
Even when Hatter said in response, correcting him, “That’s the financing amount,” Boots added, “Just saying, this isn’t the standard family car.”
He added in something about buying tractors and combines for his farm but honestly, none of it made sense.
“Typical Schuylkill County politics.”
Again, this whole saga really isn’t about whether the Tax Assessment office needs 3 vehicles to conduct its property reassessment. This has become more about how the Courthouse conducts business and spends your money. This is the same money they’ll soon be asking for more of from many property owners when this reassessment is finished.
And it’s obvious from the comatose response Hatter got from the Commissioners regarding this absurd proposal, the way this deal was concocted is par for the proverbial course at the Courthouse.
Almost no effort was put into this deal. It’s just throwing out money with nary a care about where it came from and where it’s going.
If the County really does need these vehicles, put together a coherent, solid argument for them and why we should spend the money and where we should spend the money.
Because this half-assed approach nets Schuylkill County …
- 3 foreign cars
- From a business not in Schuylkill County
- Financed through a bank not based in Schuylkill County
It’s un-American and it’s un-Schuylkill County. But at the same time, it’s so typical of Schuylkill County politics.