Supply shortages hit home in Belmont County this week, when plans to upgrade and replace the Senior Services fleet ran into an obstacle.
On Wednesday the Belmont County Board of Commissioners rescinded a motion from Sept. 8 that awarded a bid to Thomas Auto Center for two new Hotshot vehicles with meal delivery package for $123,118 for Senior Services of Belmont County. Commissioner Jerry Echemann said this was due to ongoing industry-wide shortages in microchips and other critical parts.
Afterward, Commissioner Josh Meyer said the board will look into other options while maintaining reliable service.
“It’s a widespread problem. It’s not unusual. I know a lot of dealerships are having problems with shortages with vehicles,” Meyer said. “It won’t disrupt services. We’ll just rebid it out. Dwayne has done a great job of keeping the fleet maintained. … It’s not like we’re in crisis mode or short on vehicles.”
Senior Services Director Dwayne Pielech said after the meeting the agency will rebid the contract with some modifications.
“It may drive up the cost, ultimately on the final product, but we have to have some of this equipment because of the volume of the people we’re serving. We’re starting to experience equipment problems with the trucks, because we’re starting to put a lot of wear and tear on them. We have to find the ability to buy a couple nutrition trucks,” he said.
“When we re-bid it, we’re expecting that it’s probably going to be at an increased amount per vehicle,” Pielech said. “To protect the taxpayers, we want it to be as competitive as possible. … “The added cost is the reality that there’s no stock. If anybody’s driven around a dealership in the Ohio Valley or other parts of the country, there’s no cars on the lot. The manufacturers aren’t putting out the number of cars per the demand. Senior Services of Belmont County and our commissioners, we’re competing with any average citizen who wants to buy a vehicle,” Pielech added. “I’m not quite sure what’s causing it, other than we need our vehicles.”
Transportation has become a more integral and expanded part of Senior Services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The agency delivers about 1,200 meals daily to seniors’ homes, with the demand only expected to grow.
Pielech said the average mileage of the newer vehicles is about 40,000-50,000 miles, while the older vehicles have an average of more than 100,000 miles on them.
“The other issue with the wear and tear on our trucks is not necessarily miles, it’s stopping and starting. Think about one route has 125 meals,” he said. “You’re stopping, starting, putting it in gear, taking it out of gear five days a week.”
Earlier this month, Pielech said the agency is receiving a grant of $350,000 from the Ohio Department of Aging for the purchase of vehicles and equipment to support expanding nutrition programs. The grant funding cannot be used for medical transportation vehicles.