City car use comes under fire, officials look to end program

En Español.

Some Richmond City Council members cast a skeptical eye Tuesday on the practice of supplying city vehicles for the use of certain employees.

Currently 10 Richmond management employees have city-issued vehicles. Together they have logged an average of 14,188 miles per month during the 2012-2013 fiscal year, Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said.

Employees commuting between home and work account for about 11,567 of those miles.

All 10 of the employees live outside of Richmond, and the longest one-way commute is about 99 miles, Lindsay said. Cost for fuel is slightly less than $20,000 annually and vehicle maintenance is less than $5,000, he added.

Lindsay said the expenses are justified because the employees, who are non-safety personnel, are on call 24-7 and often make stops for city business before coming to the office.

In total, it costs $25,838 annually to maintain all 10 cars. The program is being phased out, he said.

City officials have done research and are considering establishing a city car share program for the community to use the city-owned cars on the weekend. City staff is still in the preliminary phase of discussing if this is a viable option for the cars after the current program ends.

“The plan is to phase out the vehicles and replace those with auto allowances, which is customary now for managers,” Lindsay said. “We are no longer assigning vehicles when somebody comes on board, but this was part of the offers and acceptances by management employees and we want to be fair when phasing those out.”

Some city council members said supplying vehicles to management is a perk that Richmond taxpayers shouldn’t have to bear.

“I think that when you go to a job, you drive your car and then pick up a city issued vehicle to take care of city business,” Vice Mayor Corky Booze said.

“My objective is to make sure any waste that is taking place in the city is handled. I’m concerned because we have the price of the vehicle, wear and tear and people using city gas.”

Some Richmond residents also took issue with the city car program.

“I don’t think it’s reasonable to think people who live far away can respond to an incident quickly anyway,” said Jackie Thompson, during public comment.

While Lindsay agreed that the program could be reevaluated, he said that officials have to discuss any changes they want to make with Local Union 1021. Lindsay maintained that it would be required per state law.

Council member Nat Bates said employees who live far away should compensate the city for excessive mileage.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for excessive mileage away from the city,” he said. “There has to be a limit.”

In other business, the council voted to instruct city staff to draft an ordinance that would implement urban agriculture incentive zones. Under the legislation, owners of land devoted to agricultural use, would see significant property tax discounts.

Implementing such zones are in line with the city’s efforts to support urban agriculture as there are already several organizations within the city that have cultivated community gardens along the greenway, at local schools and in neighborhoods, the staff report said.

One Comment

  1. One of the problems we face with any government entity is that they have a government mentality rather than a business mentality.

    You rarely see businesses giving away the store to their employees with wages, medical insurance and pensions they can’t afford to pay for.

    Or, as in the case of Richmond, provide them with City cars that they’re free to drive home and use as they would their own car. [While City policy may forbid the use of the City car for personal use, it’s unrealistic to assume that this policy is practiced across the board.]

    Not only does it cost us a fortune in fuel but the wear and tear on the vehicle and the increased maintenance costs are prohibitively expensive.

    Take, for example, the department manager who has a 200 mile round trip commute each day. If this manager works a regular five day work week—and we exclude holidays—this would be somewhere around 50,000 miles per year. It would be expected that this same manager might only drive about 8,000 miles for work related business. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this vehicle will wear out significantly faster, will guzzle gas by the boatload, will go through a set of tires every year and require significant maintenance at a rate far faster than had the vehicle been used solely for business purposes.

    No one will argue that our safety service personnel need their specially modified vehicles 24/7 in case of an emergency. For other department heads and employees, though, you have to ask just what kinds of emergencies they might have that require them to have access to a City owned vehicle 24/7. If a streetpole gets tagged, should the code enforcement manager be expected to rush in from a hundred miles away to deal with it? What kinds of emergencies would the Planning Director need to rush out to deal with? I don’t want to make it look like I’m picking on anyone holding these positions. I just can’t endorse the idea that these people need a taxpayer provided vehicle 24/7.

    We also need to ask ourselves about these employees who live outside of Sacramento or deep in the Central Valley. How quickly could they respond to an emergency once notified? If it takes an hour to an hour and a half—on the road and without traffic—to get to Richmond, how effective can they be in dealing with these “emergencies”? [Let’s not forget that they might also need to change into the appropriate attire, close up their homes and the other stuff that takes up our time as we try to depart from our homes.]

    Even if they say they need a vehicle to attend a meeting away from Richmond where they need to go straight from their home to the meeting, there are other ways to deal with this. A voucher system wherein the employee could be reimbursed at the going rate for mileage is just one way to handle this.

    Coming from a background in Labor I would never suggest that employees ever be expected to use their own vehicles. And that’s where I believe it to be wrong to provide them with a transportation allowance as a part of their wage package. For most of us, getting to and from work is part of the process of working for a living.

    Once at work, though, the employee needs to park their personal vehicle and jump into a pool vehicle provided by the City and left in the City at the end of the work day.

    Our civic leaders—both elected and hired—need to remember that the money they’re spending willy nilly isn’t theirs—it belongs to the people and they need to be responsible to the people. When we’re dealing the budget deficits of the magnitude we’re seeing here in Richmond, sometimes you need to pinch pennies instead of throwing them away.

    Just a thought.

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