Take-Home Car Costs Unknown
High gas prices are hitting drivers in the wallet, and they may also lead to some changes in policies Gaithersburg city government has regarding its fleet of vehicles.
City Manager Angel Jones has directed city staff to investigate options to reduce the budget spent on filling up the tanks of city-owned vehicles.
“It is accurate to say that I will be directing staff to bring me options relating to this issue, which may include, but hopefully [are] not limited to, higher efficiency vehicles and a new city residency incentive,” she said.
The Gaithersburg Police Department has a total of 42 vehicles officers are permitted to take home at the end of their shift. Officers are not allowed to use their patrol vehicles outside the city limits while in an off-duty status, Jones said. Officers can request approval to make short stops along their commuting route.
Personal use of the take-home cars is allowed within the sixth district of Montgomery County, which includes the city of Gaithersburg.
Take-home vehicles give officers the ability to respond to calls for service while commuting and allows them to respond directly to critical areas during emergencies. The vehicles also allow for a greater police presence during shift changes.
Chief Mark Sroka also has a city-owned car he uses to make his daily commute from his home in Howard County.
The Gaithersburg Police Department budget for gasoline in the fiscal 2011 budget is $200,000. Jones said current estimates have the department spending about $175,000 in fuel costs this year. Jones said she was unable to estimate how much of that expense is spent on commuting.
“I did not choose to increase the budget directly as it appears we already have a small cushion in the current budget amounts as evidenced by unspent funds,” Jones said. “For (FY) 2012 we have placed additional funding of $200,000 in our non-departmental contingency account to be used by all departments, if needed, toward extraordinary gasoline and energy costs.”
Jones also drives a city-owned vehicle as part of her compensation package. The director of the Public Works Department and other essential personnel are authorized to take a vehicle home during periods of severe weather or impending severe weather as well as other approved work-related activities, Jones said.
With gas prices topping $4 per gallon, Jones said it may be time to look at ways to keep mileage to a minimum.
“It’s difficult to say where the tipping point might be, but we are all sensitive to all increases in costs and try to react accordingly,” she said. “Saving fuel and money certainly is a good match for our sustainability goals, but we do not want to inadvertently affect things like police response times.”
Officers are allowed to take their assigned vehicles up to 25 air miles from the city limits, according to Gaithersburg policy. That radius was recently reduced from 50 miles, although some officers were grandfathered in under the old policy.
Jones said she is less inclined to shrink the take-home radius further than she is to create a greater city residency incentive. That program now offers qualifying employees a housing stipend to assist in the costs of rent or mortgage payments for houses within city limits.
The program has income eligibility requirements based on the Areas Median Income for the Washington Metropolitan Area as determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Jones is including funding to continue this incentive in the fiscal 2012 budget.
Jones was not specific about how she would enhance the residency incentive program.