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The BMHA Auto Club

Top staff at BMHA throw away $13,000 and counting on renting instead of buying SUVs

It’s practically a refrain in our ownership culture: It’s better to buy than to rent. Leave it to the top staff of Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority to turn that axiom on its head.

For the past seven months, BMHA’s executive director, Dawn Sanders, and her second-in-command, Modesto Candelario, have been renting SUVs, at a cost of $13,351 in taxpayer dollars (and counting) for cars that the BMHA doesn’t own.

Both Sanders and Candelario are entitled to vehicles provided by BMHA, according to their contracts. Their cars are available to them seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Like many municipal agencies, BMHA buys vehicles through the State of New York from a list of state-approved vendors, at tremendous savings compared to the prices on a dealer’s lot. Every few years, vehicles need to be replaced, the cycle determined by a calculus that measures when it’s cheaper to replace a vehicle than to repair it. Decommissioned vehicles are sold, and the proceeds offset the price of the new vehicles.

The same way most people do it, in other words. Of course, you can only sell a car at the end of its useful life if you own it.

Here’s how it happened that Sanders and Candelario chose renting over owning: Back in early March, Candelario’s 2000 Ford Explorer broke down, according to a statement Sanders faxed over to Artvoice on Wednesday afternoon. Despite having just 100,000 miles on the odometer, the car overheated and the engine seized. On March 6, Candelario rented a Mitsubishi Galant as a replacement. The Galant was later switched out for a Hyundai Sonata.

On March 26, BMHA’s board approved the purchase of 17 new vehicles through New York State. But the vehicles that Sanders and Candelario wanted were not available. (“SUVs would best serve the needs of BMHA,” she said in her statement. According to sources that asked not to be named, Sanders previously had expressed dissatisfaction with the 2000 Ford Explorer BMHA provided her.) A new list of vehicles available through the state would not be released until autumn. Meantime, in April, Sanders’s Explorer broke down, too, with just 100,000 miles on it. So, beginning on April 15, she started renting: first a Jeep Liberty, then a Ford Edge.

So far, the rental for Sanders has cost BMHA $7,234. The rental for Candelario has cost BMHA $6,117.

Neither Sanders nor Candelario sought approval of the rentals from BMHA’s board of commissioners. The board learned about the rentals last week, after Artvoice asked for information about the issue. According to resident commissioner Joe Mascia, the board asked Sanders why she and Candelario would throw away BMHA money on rentals rather than consider alternatives—use other available vehicles in the BMHA fleet, for example, or use their own personal vehicles and seek reimbursement from BMHA, or have the broken-down vehicles repaired. Sanders answered that the rentals were intended to be a short-term solution, lasting just a few months, until the state issued a new approved vendors list, at which point she and Candelario had hoped to find suitable vehicles.

Sanders argues that the rentals will have saved BMHA money over the long term: She and candelario need and are entitled to cars; their cars broke down; the cars they wanted were not available when the need arose; buying the cars they wanted off a dealer’s lot would have cost BMHA more than the cost of the rentals.

“The goal from day one has been to purchase vehicles using the State Contract at considerable savings to BMHA,” Sanders said in her faxed statement. “The unanticipated break down of the previously provided BMHA vehicles, and the unavailability of State Contract vehicles despite our best efforts, led us to renting vehicles.”

Her statement did not explain why the executive director and assistant executive director of BMHA need gas-guzzling SUVs, except to point out that she and Candelario do a lot of driving in the course of their work days—an argument that Mascia turned around as a rationale for purchasing (rather than renting) cheaper, smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles for senior staff.

BMHA’s commissioners have asked Sanders to provide a written explanation for the rentals at this Thursday’s board meeting.

—geoff kelly

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