OCEAN CITY – After heated debate and public pressure led the City Council to cut more than a dozen take-home vehicles from the town’s employee fleet, the City Council decided to delay the implementation of the decision until October.
City Manager Dennis Dare recommended to the Mayor and Council at Monday night’s meeting at City Hall to delay the decision to strip a handful of employees, who live outside of the newly created 15-mile radius rule, of their take-home vehicles until after the summer.
The council voted in May in to have the vehicles taken from the employees, saving the town upwards of $59,000, on June 30, the end of the current fiscal year.
Rather than remove the vehicles leading into the town’s busy holiday weekend, the council voted 5-2, with Joe Hall and Margaret Pillas in opposition, to hold off until the fall.
“Making a major change like this or any major change for that matter, is probably not the best idea to put into effect in the middle of summer in Ocean City,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic. “Even though I’ve been a vocal advocate of trimming our take-home vehicle fleet, I’m willing to go along with waiting to put this into effect until October.”
Councilman Joe Hall, on the other hand, disagreed with Dare’s pleas to delay the process, saying any more delay would essentially cheapen the process and be a step backwards.
“This topic was a big deal during the budget process, and it was a very hot topic that became controversial, so I think we should nip it in the butt, and let’s get to working out the issues as they come,” said Hall.
The issues, according to Dare, lie in the fact that many of the people who take vehicles home in Ocean City, mostly police officers in this case, are what he calls “first responders” and said that at this point in the summer, the town could face additional costs with overtime and additional pay, negating the savings from the implementation of the council’s decision.
“The idea is to save money, but we are discovering some issues that may cost us more than the savings for simply parking the take-home vehicles,” Dare said. “For instance, one of the problems with take-home vehicles was when they are used for ‘on call’ employees. The problem is the employee’s personal car is sitting in Ocean City so when they are ‘on call’ at home they can’t go on a date or visit their dad in the hospital if more than 15 miles away. They then could be considered ‘on duty’ and would need to be compensated when their personal life is restricted.”
Dare said that his main talking point to the council was that it may be more prudent to work out issues that may and apparently have already come out concerning this issue after the season is over, rather than at the “peak of the season when mistakes are critical.”
“There is a lot more to this than just when it should go into effect,” said Councilman Jim Hall. “There are some employees whose lives are affected and they have some serious concerns.”
Jim Hall and Councilman Lloyd Martin quickly contested Joe Hall’s quick trigger finger to implement the rule by noting that the timing to fully address the volume of the situation might be best after the majority of the tourists have gone home.
“We had a lot of discussion and good ideas came out of it, but it’s not a savings of a lot of money, and it just needs more work,” said Jim Hall.
Martin noted that making the cuts official in October would make it easier for Dare to figure out if the cuts were justified.
“I think it’s a fair request because Dennis can’t know exactly who needs what vehicle and how many times they are being called into work,” said Martin. “So this way, he can monitor every time that someone is being called in.”
Joe Hall was adamant in saying that Dare must have a knowledge of how to implement the cuts now, rather than needing until October.
“I’m not willing to accept that Dennis doesn’t know how he’s going to implement this at this time because we started working on this last budget, and we hammered on it throughout this year’s entire budget process,” said Hall. “Now we are right at the end of June when it’s supposed to go into effect, and now we want to delay it. We are pulling off of something that has had a lot of time to develop.”
Mitrecic said, however, that regardless of the savings issue, he hoped that he change in date would be a one-time only type of change.
“This is a policy that needs to be tweaked, but we can’t keep changing the date, and I hope that the department heads come up with and make their case before Oct. 1, so we can see whether or not the requests hold water or not,” said Mitrecic, “but I will vote for this because I don’t want to do anything to disrupt a workforce that has that has made a lot of sacrifices already and worked with us through this whole process.”
Mayor Rick Meehan noted the extra time taken to “get the policy right” would be beneficial for years to come.
“This may not be a lot of money now, but if we get this right, in 10 years, the town of Ocean City is going to see a lot of savings from this decision,” said Meehan.