FERGUSON TOWNSHIP — Over about five months, a proposal to purchase four SUVs for the regional code office has evolved into approval for two SUVs and two compressed natural gas cars.
The vehicles — Ford Escapes and Honda Civic CNGs — are replacements for three SUVs and a truck, planned this year by the Centre Region Code Agency.
The Council of Governments Public Safety Committee approved the amended purchase during Wednesday’s meeting.
Codes Director Walt Schneider investigated hybrid and CNG vehicles after previous suggestions from the committee.
He said he couldn’t find a hybrid vehicle that fit the agency’s needs and eventually discovered the CNG Civic.
“The hybrid doesn’t pay for itself,” he said, comparing purchase and gas prices. “The CNG will actually pay for itself immediately because the cost is a third.”
With a mild winter resulting in a decreased need for fuel for heat, natural gas prices broke $2 per gasoline gallon equivalent this spring.
Schneider said the agency will order the Escapes soon, through the state Co-Stars or Westmoreland COG purchasing programs. They are estimated to cost between $23,000 and $24,000 each.
The CNG Civics aren’t available through government purchasing, so COG will advertise for competitive bids. Schneider said price estimates are between $26,000 and $27,000 apiece.
Though Schneider previously argued for standardizing the agency fleet with four Escapes, he said the CNG vehicles will serve as a test for potential future purchase.
The Escapes, with higher clearance, will be used for new construction inspections, and the Civics for existing structures.
“I would prefer to standardize the fleet, but I have no problem with where we’re going,” he said. “I wish I could’ve gotten the Escapes CNG.”
College Township Councilman David Koll has said that officials must closely consider the way they spend money, and said Wednesday he’s “glad” COG will purchase the Hondas.
“I’ve always been a fan of fuel efficiency,” he said. “I’m happy that we’re doing something. It’s a start.”
Also Wednesday, Schneider proposed working this year to develop a regional, uniform approach to regulating and enforcing outdoor burning.
Doing so was originally scheduled for 2013, but an increase in complaints prompted starting the process sooner.
“We want to look at backyard fire ring kind of activity,” he said. “That’s where more of the complaints are coming from. It’s humid out and you’re burning the chimenea, and the smoke is going into your neighbor’s yard.”
That has become a problem in one Ferguson Township neighborhood, where some residents have complained that backyard fires are frequent and sometimes left unattended, disturbing others with the smoke. Schneider said that sums up overall complaints, and said he hopes to prepare a document for committee review by August.
Schneider said he will include regulations related to the age of the person responsible for a backyard fire; a potential “three strikes” policy, prohibiting someone from burning for a year after three nuisance warnings; and including an educational component.
“I believe the average person wants to be a good neighbor,” he said. “People don’t know good practices.”
Jessica VanderKolk can be reached at 235-3910. Follow her on Twitter @jVanReporter