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Some Hagerstown council members question need for take-home vehicles

July 16, 2008|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Some members of the Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday attacked a program in which about $108,976 of taxpayers' money was used to buy gasoline so municipal employees could drive city-owned vehicles to and from work.

A portion of the money, which was spent between November 2006 and October 2007, also was used to supply gasoline for the vehicles to use on the job, city records show. Almost 33,635 gallons of gasoline were purchased for 48 vehicles during that one-year period.

The issue was discussed several years ago, but resurfaced in May, when Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer said the take-home vehicles were costing the city too much money in the wake of rising gas prices.

During a City Council work session Tuesday, Cromer and Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh questioned the managers of some city departments to determine the reason employees needed the vehicles to commute to and from work.

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When Public Works Director Eric Deike told the council that four supervisors in his department used the vehicles for such purposes, but rarely responded to emergencies after hours, Cromer said, "That's ridiculous."

Nigh said she doubted whether the supervisors should have vehicles, despite Deike saying that the supervisors used the vehicles as "mobile offices."

"I don't want vehicles being taken home unless they respond to something ... It's a no-brainer," Nigh said.

City Utilities Director Michael Spiker said his department recently eliminated four of its 19 take-home vehicles, and two more would leave the fleet when their drivers soon retire.

Because the city doesn't have a specific policy to track take-home vehicle usage, Spiker said he would work with other members of the staff to devise a plan that would record, among other things, the number of miles that the vehicles log.

Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean requested that the plan also include information to determine who would be held liable if a city-owned vehicle was involved in an accident while an employee was commuting to or from work.

Although the council made no formal decision, Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II said rising gas prices have forced other governments to cancel take-home vehicle programs.

According to an Associated Press article that was written earlier this month, the Allegany (Md.) County Commissioners directed each county department to reduce its number of take-home vehicles by 25 percent within three years.

"We're trying to put together something that makes sense, saves money and still let's us get the job done," Bruchey said.

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