Target 11 investigates city rental cars

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PITTSBURGH —

What would you consider to be an affordable monthly car payment?  How about $300, $400, or $500 per month. Sounds reasonable. 

What about $1,500 per month?

That’s how much we found one city shelling out every month for just one vehicle.

It's not a Mercedes, which we found online for $589 per month with zero down. It's not even a Jaguar for $728. We're talking about a Dodge Grand Caravan.

Pittsburgh's parks and recreation department rents six of these minivans every summer to transport lifeguards and pool supplies at a costs of nearly $1,500 a month per van for a total of $36,000.

Here's what taxpayers had to say about the rental deal.

"I guess my question would be why?" said one taxpayer.

"That's shocking." said another.

"Oh my goodness. Well that's quite a tab," added another taxpayer.

"A tab you wouldn't want?" asked Target 11 investigator Rick Earle.

"No absolutely not," said the taxpayer.

"But a tab you are paying because it's taxpayer dollars," said Earle.

The director of Parks and Recreation told Target 11 that the department rents the vans through a contract the city has with Dollar Rent A Car. He added that's the only option they have to rent vehicles.

"This is news to me," said Pittsburgh City Councilmember Theresa Kail-Smith.

We presented our findings to Kail-Smith.

"$1,500 seemed to be an extraordinary amount of money to pay per month for one vehicle," Earle stated.

"It does seem extraordinary, but I think it merits further looking into and further review," said Kail-Smith.

And it's not just parks and rec paying big bucks to rent cars. Target 11 discovered city police are also shelling out nearly $1,500 per vehicle to rent cars for at least three undercover officers.

Police defend the costs, claiming they need to routinely rotate the cars for undercover operations.

While that may be the case, Target 11 found out that the Allegheny County district attorney's office pays far less, about a quarter of what the city pays, to lease undercover vehicles for undercover detectives.

We also discovered that the county probation department leases vans for about half the cost the city pays for vans.

"When you see this situation of two of the region's governments are both performing the same function and one's paying significantly less, that's when some kind of warning bell goes off and you say okay why is that and who needs to get to the bottom of it and say this is how we can maybe improve upon this system and maybe we can start saving some money," said Eric Montarti of the government watchdog group, the Allegheny Institute.

And after looking into the bills we showed her, Kail-Smith did get back to us.

"Well I think in comparison to the county there's a huge difference and it merits further looking into, absolutely does. I think there should be some way that we could consolidate our efforts and get the best deal possible, "said Kail-Smith.

So why does the city continue to pay premium rates to rent cars? It's not quite clear. Most of the people we talked to say they had no idea the bill was that high and they say it's just something they've always done. As far as we can tell, it's been going on for at least a decade, and no one ever questioned the costs until now.