Charleswood Coun. Kevin Klein is calling for the break-up of the city’s fleet management agency after complaining that it imposes excessive and unnecessary costs on the Winnipeg Police Service and other civic departments.
Klein, who is also chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board, said it’s costing police $200,000 annually in service charges to fleet management for services that police civilian staff are either currently doing or could do at no additional cost.
He said the police board feels the continued involvement with the fleet agency is negatively impacting police operations.
"We want to address this because we feel these funds could be better used for policing," Klein told the Free Press. "There's $200,000 and more going to another city department that should be used to fight crime."
Klein appeared at the July 5 finance meeting on behalf of the police board, along with Deputy Police Chief Art Stannard, to express their concerns about the fleet agency's billings.
The fleet management agency was established by council in 2003 to centralize purchases and leases of equipment and vehicles purchases for all departments, except Transit. The agency is also involved in securing auto insurance, provides repair service for equipment and vehicles and operates six fuel depots. However, Transit and police maintain their own repair facilities and Transit buys its fuel separately.
The agency has an operating budget of $49 million and a capital budget of $23 million, with a staffing complement in 2019 of 129 full-time equivalent positions.
Fleet imposes administrative charges on civic departments for vehicle leases (ranging from one per cent to two per cent, depending on the length of the lease) and auto insurance policies (five per cent) – to cover the cost of their own operations and insists it operates on a break-even basis.
Dennis Konowich, the agency’s chief operating officer, disputed the charges to police and other departments as unnecessary or excessive, explaining departments would have to incur them if they did the work themselves.
Konowich said the establishment of the agency brought efficiency and savings to the city and helped establish consistency in practices and transparency.
"By us doing it, we free up other administrative staff within departments to do more things specific to the business service they are providing," Konowich told the committee.
But Stannard supported Klein’s concerns, explaining the WPS believes the fleet agency bills police for work its own civilian staff is either doing or could do on its own, adding it’s reached the point where police want to be exempted from involvement with the agency.
"We’re going to be serving notice in regards to our financial processes with fleet management and different charge backs and different ways we can do things better. That will come at a different time, in a different place," Stannard told the committee.
Stannard told the committee that the leasing surcharges imposed by the fleet agency is for services that WPS civilian staff do now – vehicle repairs and maintenance and securing auto insurance – and that its own civilian staff are capable of buying and leasing their own vehicles without having to incur additional charges from the fleet agency.
"We can take over insurance right now and save that five per cent," Stannard said.
Konowich told the committee the agency is considering alternative purchasing and leasing methods, including partnering with other governments and having civic staff purchase fuel directly from retailers. But Konowich said a report on the possibility of launching those initiatives wouldn’t likely be ready until the middle of 2020.
Klein said police are under intense pressure to find savings, adding eliminating involvement with the fleet agency is an option that will be considered by the police board during budget consultations.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.