Officials want to curb use of county cars - Commissioners say too many go home with workers; departments say it's practical
Spokane County, WA - With gas prices high and tax revenues low, Spokane County commissioners want to reduce the number of county vehicles driven home each night by their employees.
Now, more than 155 of the county's nearly 2,200 workers drive home in a county car or truck.
Commissioners told county Chief Executive Officer Francine Boxer on Tuesday to reduce that number substantially, although they didn't give her an exact number.
The county needs to save every dollar it can because of millions of dollars in shortfalls projected at the county courthouse over the next three years, they said. The county is bracing for $11million in red ink next year alone.
"We need to really tighten down on these things," Commissioner Kate McCaslin said. "It's ridiculous."
Many department heads say the practice is necessary to ensure prompt response from employees who are on-call after normal work hours, such as animal control officers, sheriff's detectives and road supervisors.
The sheriff alone has 89 employees with take-home cars.
Others say it allows their employees to spend more time in the field, serving the public, instead of driving to and from their department headquarters to pick up or drop off county vehicles.
"Animal control officers begin and end their shifts on a regular basis in the field," said Animal Control Director Nancy Hill, who takes a county car home herself. "This process greatly benefits the department. Officers are able to handle more calls and in many cases have a quicker response time."
Five other animal control officers also have take-home cars.
Still others said allowing employees to take home county cars cuts down other costs.
"It is not uncommon for staff to stay on an inspection job after the end of a workday in order that a project can be finalized," Jim Manson, the county's building official, told Boxer in a memorandum. "They go the `extra mile.' Taking the vehicle home at night allows this to happen more readily and avoids the overtime costs that would be incurred were staff required to return to the office after completion of these projects."
Manson said allowing 18 of his employees this privilege saves the county more than $70,000 each year.
Employees are supposed to use their county cars only for officials business, not running errands or other personal tasks.
Commissioners agreed that some take-home cars are necessary.
"We could lose an hour per day on some of these people if they had to drive down here," Commissioner John Roskelley said.
But many departments appear to be pushing the limit of what's necessary, commissioners said.
Commissioner Phil Harris got a chuckle out of Fair and Expo Center Dolly Hughes' justification for allowing her maintenance manager to take turns driving home four fair vehicles, which are mostly driven at low speeds on the fairgrounds property.
"Two years ago, I authorized (the maintenance manager) to rotate driving these vehicles home. The distance is such that they can be driven 50-60 mph -- enough to reduce carbon build-up and reduced our maintenance needs," Hughes wrote in a memo to Boxer.
"Carbon buildup, can you believe that?" Harris said, shaking his head.
Department heads need to set up rotations or do whatever else they can to reduce the number of cars going home, commissioners decided.
"They take it to and from work, it adds up the miles," McCaslin said. "We stop it, (the cars) last longer. They use less gas."
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