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Erie County dipping its toes into leasing its big equipment


Government leasing has been talked about for years and there has been some of it. Now, one of the big dogs in local government, Erie County, is dipping its toes into leasing to see if it can help, especially in winter weather.

The county is unlikely ever to have enough cash or bonding ability to buy all of the equipment the Public Works Department needs - and if it did, much would sit around in the off-season. County legislators Thursday approved a pilot program to lease three large front-end loaders to work on snow removal in the Southtowns.

The county would spend nearly $200,000 to buy three giant snowblowers to mount on the loaders for those heavy snowfalls along roads like Route 16. Public Works Commissioner Bill Geary said Caterpillar was picked because the equipment is American made.

Geary said the leases can save money and make equipment available when needed, not just sitting around in a county installation for most of the year. He said these snowblowers are the kind of equipment that can be used in the mammoth drifts, which sometimes makes Southtowns travel difficult after a storm.

"These snowblowers, they go on the front of a high lift. They're hydraulically driven," he said. "They're about eight feet wide and almost five feet high, multi-stage. They have a lot of safeguards in them, so if we do get a tree lodged in there, a tree, some debris that's very large, it'll shut down before it does damage to equipment. However, we're talking about being able to blow five, six feet of snow for miles on end."

He said county workers will drive and maintain the equipment leased from a Batavia business when used.

"It's gonna save us money because now, hopefully, if this pilot program works, we can go with this type of procurement as opposed to bonding and paying on equipment for 10 years that we may only use seasonally, but it also gives us flexibility to specialized piece of equipment that we need at a moment's notice," Geary said.

In another community, Niagara Falls Water Board Member Nicholas Forster says his agency is leasing equipment to lower operating costs from old equipment.

"Twelve-and-a-half years old to one that's now seven by leasing 10 new vehicles, Forster said. "Our fleet is about 37 strong and our focus is on leasing 10 new vehicles each year for the next three years. Where we we have our fleet is fairly new. So, just by that one strike of the pen, we went from a fleet that was 12 1/2 years old to one that was seven."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.