Car Fleet Costs City Millions

by Gabe Bullard on May 29, 2008

We’ve got video and more information on who has a city car. Click here for more.

One of the five pools that stayed closed this year was the Breslin pool east of downtown, Aleve Douglas and some of her neighbors want it re-opened.

“It’s a service for us, for our neighborhood that’s an existing service. And it’s a benefit.”

It would cost the city more than $100,000 to open Breslin and even more to make necessary repairs to the facility. Douglas says the city could afford it by scaling back the take-home vehicle program. For example, parks department director Mike Heitz drives a 26 thousand dollar car provided by the city.

“I was surprised that they would furnish a take-home vehicle to someone who makes over $100,000 a year.”

“He pays $30 a month and he uses his car for official travel. So, you know, if he’s called out to go to a park issue or park problem or he goes to a park event he’s able to use the car in that regard.”

Mayor Jerry Abramson recently declared that all elected or appointed officials with take-home vehicles must pay $30 a month for their cars. Police officers don’t pay for their take-home vehicle unless they use it for another job. Then they’re charged $60 a month.

The city provides fuel and maintenance for the vehicles and employees who are on call can use them for personal business.

“I saw one just the other day where a woman was taking her five year old to a birthday party and I asked that question when she pulled into an area. I said ‘Is this a 24 hour call?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, I’m on duty 24/7. I’ve got to go to a hazardous material spill if and when, wherever it might happen, so I take this car and I’m ready to roll at any particular time.’”

More than one thousand of the roughly 2,600 cars in the city fleet can be used anytime for personal and work purposes anywhere in the county. Those are police vehicles. The mayor helped develop that policy when he was an alderman in the 1970s.

“We have believed as a community that it enhances public safety to have a police car in the neighborhood, police car at the grocery store, police car at the restaurant and having those police have those cars be visible in their neighborhood.”

“I do know some officers that they don’t have a private vehicle, they just have their police vehicle and the drive that off duty.”

Lt. Colonel Troy Riggs is the assistant chief of police. He agrees with the mayor that having police visible and on-call at all times enhances safety, but he does recall a time before the merger when the cost of the policy was called into question.

“Years ago in the county police sometime in the 90s gas had skyrocketed I think to about $1.30 a gallon and the decision was made that officers could only drive their cars to and from work.”

That’s how it works it Nashville, Tennessee. A spokesperson for the police department there says officers can take their vehicles home, but they can’t use them for personal business. Mayor Abramson doesn’t think Metro Government will adopt that policy anytime soon.

“If it gets to $20 a gallon we’re probably going to have to rethink. But right now the way it sits, public protection is very important to me and this community.”

The city is working to cope with high prices by replacing gas-guzzling vehicles with more efficient ones, but the city still pays to fill the tank.

“We use about 2.7, 2.8 million gallons of fuel every year and for every one penny that fuel prices go up, costs us about $30,000.”

In the last six months, fuel prices have gone up about 55 pennies.

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