The Superintendent of the state Highway Patrol has faced questions from the House Budget Committee about his agency’s purchase of a new plane.
Colonel Ron Replogle tells the Committee the idea to purchase the new $5.6 million dollar plane was his and his department’s, and was approved by the Department of Public Safety and the Office of Administration. He says the purchase was put out for bid December 6 and ads were placed in newspapers in Kansas City and St. Louis. It was awarded December 17 and the funds were transferred December 20.
Vice Chairman, Representative Tom Flanigan (R-Carthage), told Replogle the purchase has raised eyebrows around the Capitol.
“There are people in the building that believe the plane was more of a political purchase and that would aid in certain people’s aspirations as they go forward in the year.”
Replogle says the plane can not legally be used for political purchases, but says he regrets not calling legislative attention to the purchase earlier.
“Hindsight’s 20/20. I’ll apologize not doing that. We’ve visited with some of those folks after the fact trying to make some of these points known of the need for the aircraft. That’s my mistake and I apologize for that. We should have come to several of those folks beforehand, laid this all out for you … the needs for it … so that it wouldn’t look like what many people are accusing of us doing here.”
Replogle says he regrets the unfavorable light that the situation has cast on the Patrol, but makes clear nothing illegal or inappropriate was done.
“I’m not a politician, I’m a police officer. I run a police organization. I guess maybe I don’t understand some of the issues surrounding the plane with some of the comments. I certainly understand the questions of why we went outside the normal budget process to purchase this plane.”
Replogle says the plane joins a 1999 craft that the Patrol inherited from the Office of Administration when it took over operation of the state’s air service in 2006. He says he wanted to have two aircraft to serve 22 state agencies.
He says only about 30 percent of the use of the personnel aircraft is done by the Patrol, for missions including prisoner transport, drug trafficking interdiction and investigations.
Replogle estimates the plane costs about $900 per hour to operate, which was what concerned Representative Genise Montecillo (D-St. Louis) the most.
“I sit in education appropriations … and we’re having to tell young people that we’re cutting their access scholarships, we’re nowhere near fully funding the foundation formula. 900 dollars an hour to drive to a meeting anywhere in the state … I’m going to be honest, I find it appalling. It’s upsetting to me.”
Replogle tells Montecillo he can’t speak for what other agencies do, but says when the Patrol uses the plane it does a cost analysis of the cheapest way to travel.
“We actually plug our salaries in, the time it takes versus flying, versus driving. The flight we took last Friday probably would have been an overnight trip. We would have incurred hotel bills, we would have probably taken as many as three vehicles, and then we plug all those things in. We actually have a formula to show that it could be a cost savings for us to fly versus driving.”
The money for the purchase came out of a line in the budget that the Patrol is allowed to use to purchase patrol cars, boats, boat motors, trailers, aircraft and to pay for maintenance. Replogle says the purchase of some new patrol cars has been delayed and that allowed for the purchase of the plane.
“We’re in the process of changing out patrol fleet over from the Crown Victoria to mainly the Dodge Charger … we have slown down our ability to be able to get that Charger out the door because it’s more involved in the wiring processes for red lights, sirens, we now are installing two radio systems … we had ordered 350 new Dodge Chargers this year and we can’t get them out quick enough so we have delayed the purchase of about 125 of those … into next year.”
Replogle says the plane is a year-old model that the Patrol was offered a discounted price on through the end of 2012, and that made him move quickly on the purchase process. He says the purchase came with extended warranties and training for the Patrol’s four pilots. Replogle says the Patrol used a sole source bid in order to find a plane with the same operational systems that its pilots are certified under.
The Committee asked the Patrol to provide all correspondence regarding the plane with the Department of Public Safety, the Office of Administration and the Governor’s Office. Replogle says that information is being gathered.