OCEAN CITY – Employee take home vehicles might be next on the proverbial chopping block as town officials continue to exhaust all options to cut expenditures.
City Manager Dennis Dare hinted this week that a “vehicle study” will be released soon that may alter the current usage of take home vehicles used by some of the town’s employees, but was reluctant to talk about specific numbers in the report before meeting with the Mayor and City Council.
Council President Joe Mitrecic said that the matter should be on the council’s agenda within the next two weeks.
“We need to evaluate which vehicles are an absolute necessity and which are just perks,” said Mitrecic. “If it’s found to be a perk, then they may have to go away.”
As per a spreadsheet prepared by Susan Childs in October of 2007, there were 68 take home vehicles issued to town employees at that time, of which 29 were issued to the police department alone.
Dare said that he has “cut a few of the vehicles since that time” but did not concede the exact number, nor the annual cost expenditures for fuel and maintenance on the town’s fleet of vehicles.
One council member hinted this week that the annual cost for fuel and maintenance for town vehicles was approximately $400,000 per year, but Dare said that the number “didn’t sound right and was more than likely a bit high.”
Dare said the exact cost will be released in the study, and whatever that cost ends up being, Mitrecic said that any tweak to the current usage of take home vehicles that saves the town money is worth looking into.
“There is no magic number or a line in the sand that makes any cuts worthwhile or not worthwhile. If it saves us money, we have to look into it, but it’s a tough thing to gauge,” said Mitrecic.
Also listed on the spreadsheet was the number of miles that each employee travels to and from work with the aforementioned town owned vehicles. The town’s policy states that the vehicles should only be used for professional usage and not for personal use.
Mitrecic said that the numbers are hard to interpret, however.
“Dennis Dare travels nine miles to work and nine miles back home with his town vehicle, but Hal Adkins (Ocean City’s Public Works Director) actually lives closer than Dennis does, but he’s driving all over town when he is at work, and Dennis is not, so you can’t just look at the distance to and from work and make an assumption,” said Mitrecic.
Distances traveled to and from work range anywhere from one mile to 34 miles, according to the list, and 36 of the top 100 salaried employees have a take home vehicle.
Mitrecic stressed that what the public may forget in this case is that many of the people who have town vehicles are “on call” seemingly 24 hours a day.
“In my mind, department heads are always on the clock, and they have to answer any call at any hour of the day. Our building inspector is on call like that, and he doesn’t have a town vehicle, but the point is that we need to look at how often these people are called in and where they are coming from to answer that call,” said Mitrecic.
Councilwoman Mary Knight thought that putting a 10-mile radius for town vehicles could be an option or hoped that if some employees conceded their vehicles, they might see other perks as the economic picture improves.
“Maybe if they gave up their vehicles this year, we could save enough money to put back in place a step increase next year,” said Knight.
Though any type of radius system might be extremely difficult to enforce, the fact that the town’s officials are looking at cutting the usage of their own take home vehicles certainly shows that they are looking at all items on the expenditure list.
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas thought maybe the easiest solution would be to leave the vehicles in Ocean City and use them only during work hours only.
“Everyone knows that equipment won’t be used until they get to town, and take vehicles are viewed by many people to be a perk,” said Pillas, “but, as long as we are in a downturn in the economy, the perks should go away.”
The study to be released to the council in the coming weeks should show not only how much money is spent annually on the town’s vehicle fleet on both fuel and maintenance, but also how much of that cost is accrued for the distances traveled to and from Ocean City.
Dare feels that the issue is a “relatively minor one” but one that needs to be addressed.
“We are going to look at it, but I’ve been trying to fry some bigger fish up until now,” he said.