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Purchase of excavator sparks debate
Need for new, replacement machine questioned
new deh county commission excavator pic web
The Barton County Road and Bridge Departments 1996 John Deere 490E excavator, shown at right, will be replaced. It is facing major, costly repairs. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

 For the second time in two weeks, the purchase of a new piece of equipment ignited a discussion as he Barton County Commission Monday morning approved the purchase of a new excavator for the Road and Bridge Department. 

The department currently uses two excavators. The department’s backup 1996 John Deere 490E excavator has 5,747 hours and is beginning to experience problems, said Road and Bridge Director Dale Phillips. 

The new Caterpiller unit will cost $158,691, after a $16,000 trade-in for the John Deere, from Foley Equipment of Great Bend. The department asked for bids on a larger unit and the Caterpiller wider tracks, heavier counter weights for safety reasons and a hydraulic “thumb.” 

The excavators are regularly used to tear out bridges and culverts, clean ditches and remove debris. Phillips said they get used almost daily, and are being called upon more often now than in the past.

“It’s requiring major mechanical expenses,” Phillips said of the old unit. Even in its back-up role, it gets utilized often.

However, Commissioner Alicia Straub questioned the move. She asked Phillips if he had any estimates on how much it would cost to repair the old excavator.

Although he didn’t have a total cost, he did say it would cost $7,000 to replace some hoses and another $3-4,000 for technicians to tear into the machine to uncover other problems.

Straub commended Phillips and his department for taking care of the older excavator. And, since it is in such good condition, she said it could be worth it to fix it.

The fear is the unit is worth $16,000 as a trade-in now, but that it would be worth less in a year and difficult to recoup the cost of the repairs. “You’d be throwing good money after bad,” commission Chairman Jennifer Schartz said.

Besides, Phillips said they looked at used machines and at keeping one around.

As for used, newer models are in short supply and, one doesn’t know what problems they’d be inheriting, Phillips said. In addition, parts for the John Deere are becoming more and more scarce.

The new unit also comes with a six-year warranty that will cover most of the repairs it may require during that period.

Phillips said this would save his staff time since it wouldn’t be busy working on the piece of equipment.

The purchase was approved by a 4-1 vote with Straub the sole no vote.

At the March 13 meeting, Straub objected to the purchase of a new $241,304 spray truck for the Noxious Weeds Department. She felt the commission was not given the option to look at other possibilities such as buying a used truck or going with a smaller, less expensive piece of equipment.

The vote was also 4-1 with Straub voting against  the purchase.