(WHAS11) -- Bidding laws help ensure that taxpayers get the biggest bang for their buck when they foot the bill for services performed by businesses for state agencies.
State law requires that bids be solicited and contracts be issued for goods and services valued at more than $20,000.
But WHAS11’s I-Team discovered that has not always been the case at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the second largest law enforcement agency in metro Louisville.
With 164 vehicles, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office has one of the largest fleets on metro Louisville's streets. The person paid to repair and maintain those cars and trucks is one of the sheriff's department's own, Henry Drexler, owner of Drexler’s Auto Service, Inc.
Drexler served as a sworn auxiliary deputy sheriff for 10 years before resigning in January.
In 2011 his company billed the sheriff's office the equivalent of $1,000 each business day, but he does not have a contract, as required by law.
“If I don't have a contract, I don't have to worry about nothing,” said Drexler.
Drexler says he prefers not to enter into contracts when doing fleet work, because he does not want to be locked into the terms they may contain.
He says his business is a small shop, run by him, his wife and his son.
If he gets sick, retires, or goes on an extended vacation, Drexler says he doesn’t want to be obligated to find someone else to perform the work.
“We did not advertise for a bid. We just didn't,” said Jefferson County Sheriff John Aubrey.
Sheriff Aubrey says Drexler earned the department's business through years of good service.
“We're his number one priority. His service, the quality of his service and what he charges us are all factors,” said Aubrey.
Aubrey said the sheriff’s office gradually sent business to Drexler’s shop because the metro garage was not making his department a top priority.
Aubrey said that deputies would often have to wait hours to get vehicles back.
According to hundreds of documents WHAS11 obtained from the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, taxpayers paid $140,000 to Drexler’s business in 2009, $172,000 in 2010 and $241,000 in 2011, representing a 72 percent increase in three years.
WHAS11 asked for and received invoices for work done by Drexler's on sheriff's office vehicles from three recent months. We showed those bills to Louisville garage owner John Shields.
“Quickly looking at it, it looks like they're paying retail, just like anyone else coming in would pay,” said Shields.
Shields indicated most fleet business reflects a discounted rate, because of the increased volume.
On just one day, bills show Drexler charged the sheriff's office more than $5,700 for servicing 15 vehicles.
On other days, he billed for repairing 19 and 22 vehicles.
And even though Ford, the manufacturer of most of the vehicles, recommends oil changes every 3,000 miles and new air filters every 15,000 miles, Drexler changed the air filter 56 percent of the time he changed the oil.
That represents an added $21 cost to each of the oil changes, raising the price from $35.45 to $56.45 for those services.
The price list Drexler’s Auto Service gave the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at least five years ago reflects a price of $28.95 plus $1.50 EPA charge. The EPA charge has increased $1 since then.
Drexler tells us he typically changes air filters every 3,000 to 4,000 miles, because he said it improves mileage.
In one case, records show the garage changed the oil and replaced the air filter after just 733 miles.
Henry Drexler has other business with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
The office pays $1,000 a month to rent a warehouse from Drexler and another $350 a month to rent a fenced-in parking lot, which is used to store vehicles and other property.
Sheriff Aubrey also admits that the department does not have a uniform contract, even though it spends thousands of dollars outfitting new deputies each year.
“That's on the list where a contract's gonna be drawn up,” said Aubrey.
The department's budget reflects that in addition to the recruits, deputies receive a combined $244,000 in annual clothing allowance.
Aubrey says they can buy a uniform anywhere, as long as it meets the department’s specs, but one local merchant doesn’t believe that’s the case.
“They shop here because they like the service that they get here, not to mention the fact that we're less expensive,” said Nancy Rickert, a manager at CMS Uniforms in Old Louisville.
Rickert says deputies like her store, but are told not to shop there.
“There is another vendor they are to buy their uniforms from,” said Rickert.
Rickert says the department’s chief deputy, Michael Hettich told her the officers should instead buy from Bluegrass Uniforms, just down the street.
Hettich told WHAS11 a slight variance in color was the reason for the call.
Now it's all being bid out, at the request of Jefferson County Attorney Mike O’Connell.
O'Connell could not talk to us for this story, since the Jefferson County Attorney's Office actually gives legal advice to the Jefferson County Sheriff's office.
But Sheriff Aubrey told us that O'Connell told him to fix the situation immediately.
“We hadn't done what we should have done. And we're doing it now. And in all fairness, I guess I have to thank you for that,” said Aubrey.
And when those invitations to bid are sent out, Sheriff Aubrey hopes his former Auxiliary Deputy Henry Drexler will be there bidding.
“I hope he's competitive. I hope he's there on top,” said Aubrey.