OCEAN CITY — The take-home vehicle debate may have theoretically been pushed back a few months earlier this year, but the chatter about what the best thing to do with all of them certainly has not.
The City Council delayed any cuts to the town’s take home vehicle fleet until Oct. 1 in order to get through the summer season and monitor the usage of the resort’s fleet of 65 take-home vehicles by the town’s employees.
With that deadline looming, City Manager Dennis Dare is scheduled to bring a new recommendation to the Mayor and City Council at Tuesday afternoon’s scheduled work session at City Hall.
Sparks flew to a certain extent in May over this issue, getting many in the public up in arms over cost savings and overall perception, while department heads were standing up for each vehicle as necessary tools for the job and part of the package deal for employment in local government.
Council President Joe Mitrecic has seemingly stood firm on the ideal that the merits of a take-home vehicle should be simply needs vs. perks, as in, if the vehicle is found to be a perk of the job, he feels it must be cut.
“Dennis [Dare] is going to have to justify each and every one of those vehicles on a car-by-car basis,” said Mitrecic. “If he can’t justify its usage, then it’s gone in my book. But, I haven’t heard a thing about what his recommendation is going to be, so who knows what he’s going to come back with.”
Dare is keeping his plans close to his proverbial hip leading up to next Tuesday, but hinted that he probably will not be recommending to cut fewer vehicles.
“Since spring, the economy on my end hasn’t improved much and the assessments are the same for two more years,” said Dare. “From a policy standpoint, I don’t see us being any more lenient than what was proposed the last time around. The bottom line is that I have a few more days to make the final decision on my end.”
In May, Dare created a 15-mile radius from city limits that would clearly define which employees could have a take-home vehicle. Simply put, if the employee lived outside the 15-mile radius, the car would be taken away, but there were a few exceptions to that rule, including a handful of the town’s undercover narcotics agents and a few of the town’s K-9 units, which can’t be taken away as per the FOP contract.
Dare also laid out stricter rules to go along with the take-home vehicles, including no one other than town employees can even ride in the car, but some on the council felt that the issue was more of public perception, in lieu of the poor economy than it was about the modest sum of money (less than $60,000 approximately of the $300,000 total town take-home vehicle cost) that would be saved by the proposed cuts of a dozen vehicles from the fleet back in May.
“Everyone is dancing around this because it’s a sore subject, and everyone’s trying to do the right thing and be the nice guy,” said Councilman Jim Hall during debates last spring, “but this is going to be an ugly decision as a lot of these folks have had cars for 20-30 years and they are valuable employees, but I’ve been around for a few years myself, and I’ve never heard from the citizens like I’ve heard now. People are hurting in this town.”
Councilwoman Margaret Pillas has been the most outspoken and perhaps the most absolute in her ideas of what to do with the take-home vehicles, which is to simply park them all at City Hall.
“I think people didn’t understand what I meant when I said ‘carpool’ back in the spring,” explained Pillas. “I would like to see all the cars parked in one place and when an employee needs to use it for official business, sign the vehicle out and return it when finished, kind of like a library book.”
In addition, Pillas isn’t so sure that Dare will be coming before the Mayor and City Council with a recommendation that she will be able to get behind.
“I don’t except for it to be favorable by any means from my point of view,” she said, “and maybe he’ll argue for the need of every one of those cars, but I hope we don’t let him get away with that.”
Mitrecic said that although every car has its merits and value to the town of Ocean City, he says this is a change that needs to be done and has been a long time coming.
“This is going to be an ongoing thing and isn’t going to end with whatever we decide to do on Tuesday,” said Mitrecic. “We made deep cuts in the spring, and I think we can make more.”