Snohomish County’s custom garbage truck now a $160,000 regret

EVERETT — Snohomish County’s public works officials have a case of buyer’s remorse.

They ordered a custom garbage truck two years ago for $160,000 and waited eagerly for nearly a year. When the truck arrived in August 2007, the truck’s cab was extra-long, as requested, but the change stole space from the truck’s bed, making it too short to be used like other trucks on county business.

They parked it, logging only 300 miles on the odometer.

County officials are close to selling the truck, but they can’t help but feel like the shopper who ordered a pair of size 8 shoes online only to discover that they fit more like a size 9: usable, but not comfortable.

“It could have worked, but we would have hauled less weight,” public works director Steve Thomsen said of the truck.

The truck was special-ordered after the county’s safety experts suggested that drivers should have extra room in the cab for a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and other supplies, county spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said.

A standard truck from Dempster Dinosaur, the company the county used at the time, costs between $150,000 and $155,000, Thomsen said.

Between ordering the custom truck and receiving it, public works officials decided to sell the county’s fleet of Dempster Dinosaur trucks in favor of trucks manufactured by Scorpion, a similar company.

That’s a change that will save the county $1.5 million over eight years, Schwarzen said.

“The (Scorpion) trucks are more fuel-efficient, they’re lighter, and the boxes are cheaper,” Schwarzen said.

That left the county with a custom truck that wouldn’t haul garbage and recycling materials as efficiently as other trucks.

Thomsen was faced with a dilemma: either use the truck until the new Scorpion fleet was purchased and the old fleet of 23 total trucks, including six Dempster Dinosaur trucks, was sold, or park the custom truck in storage with hope of recouping more money than the truck would fetch were it used.

Thomsen and others decided to let the truck sit.

The fleet of 23 trucks, including the six Dempster trucks, is currently up for sale, Thomsen said. The entire fleet will be sold as a package, but current bidding suggests that the county will get about $112,000 for the custom truck. That’s about 70 percent of what the county paid for the truck.

The other Dempster trucks, which are older than the custom truck and have logged more miles, are expected to sell for about $60,000 each, Thomsen said.

County Councilman Mike Cooper, chairman of the county’s Public Works Committee, said he plans to review the original bid for the custom truck to make sure the problem doesn’t happen again.

“This is the first thing like this I’ve heard of,” he said, adding that he trusts Thomsen to manage the public works department responsibly.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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