Hidden costs raises more concerns
Keene, N.H. – Although a federal grant awarded the city of Keene money for an armored vehicle, the Bearcat is far from a “free” acquisition.
The Keene City Council voted Dec. 15 to accept a $285,933 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for a Bearcat G3, an armored security vehicle designed and manufactured by LENCO industries.
While the Bearcat is still in hibernation at the LENCO factory in Pittsfield, Mass., city officials and residents have expressed concerns in various settings regarding the Bearcat’s possible hidden costs.
Uses for the Bearcat in Keene include, “Pumpkin Festival and other dangerous situations,” Keene Police Chief Kenneth Meola said during a Feb. 9 public hearing where over 100 residents voiced concerns about the new vehicle.
Potentially dangerous situations like hostage taking, shootouts and riots could mean potential repairs for the Bearcat, costing the town additional funds not covered by the federal grant.
According to LENCO Governmental Sales Manager Lenny Light, The Bearcat is designed off a Ford F550 chassis, with a 6.7 twin-turbo, 450 horsepower diesel engine, capable of highway speeds up to 70 mph..
“The F-550’s are a nice truck, that’s what our wreckers are built off of,” said Jay Coppo of J and J Auto Body of Troy, NH.
The Bearcat is far from an average Ford F-550, however. According to LENCO’s website, the Bearcat G3 weighs over 16,000 pounds, while the F-550 weighs close to 9,000. The Bearcat’s winter “fat” could damage chassis components with the excess weight of 3/8-inch thick armor plating that encases the vehicle.
“Although the Bearcat’s chassis is rated at 19,500 pounds, I’d still be worried about the brake rotors and pads failing earlier than usual,” Coppo said.
Slowing the hefty Bearcat down could put extra wear and tear on the brakes. According to AMautoparts.com, a set of rotors and pads for one brake on a Ford F550 costs about $203, not counting the price of installation, which can fluctuate.
“I’d expect to change the brake pads and rotors on a vehicle like that every 80,000 miles or so,” Coppo said.
While the strong chassis raises few financial concerns, the Bearcat’s replacement paws can get quite costly.
The most-often used and probably most-often abused parts of the vehicle are the G3 tires, a special upgrade for Keene’s Bearcat.
Upgraded features usually equate to added costs, and the G3 tires are no exception,
A $30,000 tire upgrade compared to a stock Bearcat LE, the G3 tires allow Keene’s Bearcat to drive through the off-road terrain of Cheshire County and the surrounding areas.
“You can probably find one of those G3 tires online for $500 each,” Light said.
According to Light, G3 tires are guaranteed to last over 50,000 on a standard Ford F550. In the Feb. 9 meeting, Chief Meola projected the Bearcat’s likely use as “about 5,000 miles per year.”
Judging going with Meola’s formula, the vehicle can be on the road for 10 years without a tire change, unless they get shot-out while the Bearcat is dealing with a dangerous situation. There isn’t a way to calculate how often the Bearcat would need a new set of paws.
In addition to tires, the Bearcat’s engine raises both upkeep and environmental concerns.
Using a 6.7 twin turbo diesel engine controlled by an automatic transmission the Bearcat can pull its own weight with few issues, but one trip to the pump can cost the town a fortune.
“The newer Fords are better truck, as long as the driver knows what they’re doing, there shouldn’t be a problem with the transmission failing early,” Coppo said.
According to Light, the Bearcat has a 40-gallon tank, and as of mid-February, the price of a gallon of diesel at any given pump in Keene hovered around the $4.10 mark. That’s costing the town over $160 every time the Bearcat drives up to the pump for a refill.
The Bearcat isn’t environmentally friendly, either.
“The Bearcat gets about 10 miles to the gallon,” Light said.
That expensive trip to the pump just got a lot more frequent.
Routine oil changes for the Bearcat are another cost to consider.
“We normally charge around $80 for a vehicle like that at our shop,” Coppo said. “We usually recommend that an oil change is done every $8,000 miles, too.”
Under the hood, the Bearcat is a formidably expensive machine.
However, it is the windshield that could be the most-costly component of the Bearcat for Keene
According to LENCO, a replacement windshield costs around $1,500.
“They mostly shoot at the windshield,” Light said.
However, the question still looms, how is Keene going to pay for all of these fees associated with the Bearcat?
Although the U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant awarded Keene the funds for the vehicle, Meola said during the Feb. 9th public hearing that the vehicle would be used “by the Western part of the state,” a move that would share both the accessibility and cost of upkeep for the vehicle.
According to Meola’s statements at the February 9th meeting, over 17 towns have pledged $100 per year to assist in financing the upkeep of the vehicle in exchange for access to the vehicle.
There’s a large dividend between cost of upkeep and the ability to pay for them – that’s only $1,700 per year, enough to pay for five new tires, one piece of windshield, or about 10 trips to the pump for the Bearcat.
This means that more tax dollars have to go to Bearcat maintenance once this annual fund is depleted.
According to LENCO, each Bearcat leaves the factory with a 3-year warranty.
“The warranty covers factory defects. That means parts of the engine, axles, and tires – but not the windshield,” LENCO representative Light said.
Light said, “People try to wrap their heads around the cost of this vehicle after the grant, but how much is the life of a police officer worth to you?
NH Homeland Security budget allows tank grant
While New Hampshire’s slice of the federal security funds’ pie is small, based on its size, the city of Keene is considering a very large portion to fund a very big tank.
Recently, Keene residents have experienced a middle school shooting in Walpole and an armed man roaming west Keene, both incidents prompting police response.
Keene Police Captain Bryan Costas said the BearCat would, “For certain (BearCat) would have been used in Tuesday’s event.” On February 14, a man in Keene was allegedly distraught and armed with a gun causing four of the seven schools located in Keene to be put on “lock- down” mode.
The BearCat would have been used with, “no question,” Costas said “It would have been a platform for first responding officers.”
Costas also said the thermal imaging feature would have been beneficial when they were scanning the woods in the West Keene area for the gunman.
The LE model of the LENCO BearCat, which is priced at $285,933, will have a $28,000 thermal image camera, showing differences in temperatures.
“They would be protected by the vehicle,” he said, “Instead of being out in the open.”
The $285,933 grant that Keene Police Department has received for the armored vehicle comes from the State Homeland Security program (SHSP). According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) website, the total federal funding Available in FY 2012 is $294,000,000, a decrease from the federal funding of $526,874,100 for FY 2011. Also according to the FEMA website, SHSP is used to, “support the implementation of state Homeland Security Strategies to address the identified planning, organization, equipment, training, and exercise needs to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from acts of terrorism and other catastrophic events. SHSP also provides funding to implement initiatives in the State Preparedness Report.”
New Hampshire alone was gifted $6,613,200 in FY 2010 through the SHSP and $3,310,348 in FY 2011. 8.6 percent of New Hampshire’s budget is going toward the purchase of the LENCO BearCat for Keene.
According to New Hampshire Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, Chris Pope, New Hampshire’s allocation is set a minimal standard amount along with about ten other states. Each state is provided a different amount of allocation depending on size.
“The program provides grants focused on homeland security and emergency management,” said Pope, “It is both used for preparedness and as a response to all hazards.”
“The emergency grants are intended to enhance capability for local fire and law enforcements.” Pope said the grants can include everything from training equipment to emergency shelters. “The federal government has an approved, pre-determined equipment list.”
SHSP has three main priorities, advancing “whole Community” security and emergency management, building prevention and protection capabilities and maturation and enhancement of state and major urban area fusion centers
In 2005 the Homeland Security grants were used in several New Hampshire counties to obtain equipment such as command trailers, prevention, recovery and response equipment, joint hazard mitigation, search and rescue, border security equipment and deployment vehicles. These cities and towns included Dover, Durham, Gilford, Hampton, Lebanon, Manchester, Nashua and Southern New Hampshire Special Ops Unit.
“There is X number of dollars to each state, 80 percent each year goes to local communities.” Pope said.
According to Pope when the federal amount of money is allocated they then communicate with all communities on grant guidance and communities can then apply for whatever it is that they need.
“The federal government process can take a long time. It is evaluated at local, state and federal level,” Pope said, “The grant review committee, both state and local, review all grants to make sure they are fully eligible and make sure it is a piece of equipment that can be used regionally.”
The LE model of the LENCO BearCat that Keene is looking to obtain will be used to service all of Southwestern New Hampshire. “To my knowledge the closest on to Keene is one hour away,” Pope said, “The grant investment program is used to solve multiple public safety problems.”
At the February 9th public hearing Police and Fire workers expressed the safety aspect that the LENCO BearCat would provide Keene but numerous residents expressed concern that the BearCat would militarize Keene’s Police force.
Keene, N.H. Fire Chief, Gary Lamoureux, said, “As emergency manager director I make sure we have a plan. If we have a deficiency, we identify those risks.”
He also said at last week’s hearing that as a community they plan equipment for incidences and if we get the resources to mitigate the particular incidents then we should utilize the piece of equipment for what it is for.
Resident, Craig Rice, however had a different, controversial take on the Federal Government giving us, “gifts.” After quoting Bob Dylan he protested, “In the scheme of things we don’t want to be involved in the Federal Government giving us gifts,” he said, “Beware of military industrial complex.” The concept of militarizing a small community continued through the public hearing. Resident Michael Clark, who brought 300 more signatures for the petition against the LENCO BearCat, expressed the, “militarization of Keene.”
“I don’t see any purpose to have a BearCat,” he said, “I don’t want to see us respond to crime, I want to see how we can prevent crime.”
Dave Gregger, another resident of Keene, said in a time where the Federal Government is in immense debt this is unnecessary money being spent.
“American people should stand up and say absolutely not,” Gregger said, “Thanks but no Tanks.”
Several community members and activists voiced their opinions opposing the Military Vehicle. According to the Free Keene website, www.freekeene.com , several activists returned to the 2/16 City Council meeting to sing “Thanks but no Tanks,” to the tune of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”.
Free Staters continue to protest against the issue in the community, handing out flyers saying, “Thanks but no Tanks.” The vote on the BearCat attack tank was postponed until the March 1st City Council meeting.
Carly Thurlow can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org