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Commissioner wants change in county's vehicle policy

October 15, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Blaming rising fuel prices, a Washington County commissioner wants county employees to park their government-issued vehicles.

County Commissioner John C. Munson said in a phone interview on Wednesday that county employees who are assigned vehicles should not be allowed to take them home.

He said the practice wastes gas and puts unnecessary wear and tear on vehicles, which ends up costing taxpayers.

"I'm not trying to be mean," Munson said. "I just think employees are not entitled to a vehicle to take home. We're talking about taxpayers' dollars."

According to the county's "Use of Official Cars and Equipment" policy, employees are assigned cars should they have to make business stops before the work day begins and after the day ends, or should they have to make emergency stops during nonworking hours.

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Each employee with an assigned vehicle that is taken home is charged a taxable benefit of $3 a day, the policy states.

Human Resources Director David Hankinson said Thursday that employees are not permitted to take the vehicles out of the county unless it's for business purposes.

He said he didn't know how many employees are issued county vehicles or how much the county spends on fuel.

He directed questions about costs to the Budget and Finance Department.

Budget and Finance Director Debra Bastian could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said the county should look at its policy regarding county-issued vehicles and also consider buying more fuel-efficient vehicles.

"I think we can look at our operating practices and our purchasing practices to see if there's anything we can do to cut back on fuel consumption," Wivell said.

Munson said Washington County Sheriff's Department deputies and some Highway Department and Water Quality Department employees and supervisors are issued county vehicles.

He said he was "OK" with the practice of deputies taking their cruisers home, because the sight of a police car might deter crime.

Munson, however, said that most of the employees in the other departments shouldn't be allowed the same benefit. He said the only others who should be permitted to take the vehicles home are those who drive trucks containing tools and equipment that might be needed in emergencies.

"When you get something that lasts over the years ... people think they're entitled to it, and they're not," Munson said.

He said employees should conserve fuel by making multiple stops while on official business in the county, rather than driving back and forth to the office after visits.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said Wednesday he didn't think employees using county vehicles to commute to and from work should be an issue. That would change, however, if gas prices climbed "majorly high," he said.

"To keep all the cars at a certain place, that doesn't make sense," Kercheval said.

Munson said he plans to bring up the issue at commissioners meetings.

"We should talk about it more and do something about it," Munson said. "It's our job to keep the costs down any way we can."

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