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Archive for Sunday, August 31, 2008

Taking their work (vehicles) home with them

Key government employees on call for official business

Ann House, who works in the city Utilities Department, is one of several city employees who have a city vehicle  in their possession at all times. House responded to a customer's call on a waterline concern on Thursday.

Ann House, who works in the city Utilities Department, is one of several city employees who have a city vehicle in their possession at all times. House responded to a customer's call on a waterline concern on Thursday.

August 31, 2008

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Taking their work (vehicles) home with them

Rising fuel costs are causing cuts to Lawrence's publicly-funded take-home vehicle system for city employees. Enlarge video

This is Lawrence's other public transit system.

Sure, everyone knows the city operates the T, a system of buses that travel around the city from stop to stop. And yes, the city operates a para-transit service that provides door-to-door service for the elderly and disabled.

But city taxpayers also are paying the bill for a third system, albeit a much smaller and more exclusive one. It is powered by trucks and sedans, has 33 riders a day and takes city employees from home to work.

It is the city's take-home-vehicle system.

The city allows 33 of the 235 vehicles in its fleet - not counting dump trucks and such - to be taken home on a daily basis by employees. And just as the city's real public transit system has experienced a big increase in operating costs because of fuel prices, the cost for a city employee to drive a vehicle home also has jumped.

According to a 2006 city report, take-home vehicles cost the city, on average, $1,056 per year, per vehicle in 2006. Using the same set of assumptions the city used in 2006 - except accounting for an increase in fuel costs from $2.10 per gallon in '06 to about $3.50 today - a Journal-World analysis estimates the city is spending $1,396 annually for each take-home vehicle, a total of $46,068.

And city leaders have taken notice.

The city has cut the number of employees who are allowed to take home vehicles from 65 in 2006 to 33 today.

"We're not finished looking at it yet, either," City Manager David Corliss said. "But we feel like we have made progress on it."

Case-by-case

With gasoline prices soaring, having a company vehicle is a nice benefit for employees.

But Corliss said the city doesn't assign take-home vehicles as an employment perk. Instead, he said employees who have take-home vehicles generally fall into the category of those who are called in after hours or those who can show some other type of obvious efficiency by having a vehicle.

"The reality is that the community has a high expectation for service, and there are some types of issues they expect a quick response," Corliss said. Corliss does not take a city vehicle home but does have a $5,000 annual vehicle stipend in his contract.

The city weighs the cost of providing employees take-home vehicles versus paying employees mileage to drive back to work after-hours.

But unlike some communities, the city doesn't have a specific policy that spells out what criteria must be met to receive a take-home vehicle.

"I have decided to look at the departments on a case-by-case basis," Corliss said.

City staff members in 2006 - at the direction of the previous City Commission - did create a draft take-home vehicle policy. But the policy was never adopted.

Under that policy, take-home vehicles would have been limited to employees who live in the city limits, although the city manager could grant an exception.

Corliss said some employees who live both in rural Douglas County and in neighboring counties take city vehicles home. Exact numbers weren't immediately available for this year, but according to the 2006 report, some city employees drove upward of 20 miles one way from home to work. In one case, one public works employee who drove nearly 15 miles one way was driving a vehicle that averaged 5 miles per gallon.

Corliss said he's now exploring a guideline that would require take-home vehicles be assigned to employees who live within a certain distance of the city.

The 2006 proposed policy also had language stating that employees generally should not receive take-home vehicles unless they were called in after-hours at least once every two weeks. It would have required department heads to keep a monthly log of how often take-home vehicles were called into action.

Corliss said the frequency of call-backs was part of the decision-making process in assigning take-home vehicles, but he said a formal report system hadn't been developed for all departments.

Corliss said the policy was not put back in front of commissioners for adoption because he believed commissioners were comfortable with him making management decisions about how to use take-home vehicles. He said creating a one-size-fits-all policy would be difficult given the variety of tasks city employees are responsible for.

"My general policy has been to try to reduce the use of take-home vehicles when it really was for more of an administrative function, but to still allow it when it was for an after-hours work issue or emergency response question."

"If we weren't making any progress in reducing the numbers, I would be more concerned about not having a written policy," Corliss said.

City commissioners also expressed support for how managers were handling take-home vehicles. Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he wasn't aware of any abuses, but said he was open to residents calling him with specific situations they are aware of.

"I would take any of those and vet them through the city manager to get an explanation," Chestnut said.

Commissioner Boog Highberger said the vehicle issue is not one he hears much about anymore.

"The last report I saw indicated that the problem had been taken care of, if there was a problem," said Highberger, who said he might be interested in putting a limit on how far a take-home vehicle could be driven. "But basically, I think it pretty much is under control."

Comments

rousseau108 6 years, 2 months ago

Wow, the City Manager is so selfless by not taking home a city vehicle. But wait, instead he gets a $5,000/yr vehicle allowance even though it would only cost the city about $1,400/yr for him to have a take home car. Maybe we should force him to take a city vehicle home since the city is so poor.

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Bladerunner 6 years, 2 months ago

So Ragingbear.....What was their response when you called and complained? Just curious.

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fan4kufootball 6 years, 2 months ago

By IRS law employers are required to put the personal use of company vehicles as income on the W-2 statements which includes driving it back and forth to their residence. It is income to the employee (i.e. Income). Therefore it is not a free benefit.

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starliterambler 6 years, 2 months ago

Does anyone think that some of those people who take the city vehicles home might just take some gas out of that vehicle and put in there own vehicle. I think it happens all the time

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Bladerunner 6 years, 2 months ago

Oh. Nevermind. Reread your post. Me guesses you didn't call.

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gccs14r 6 years, 2 months ago

I have to wonder about the effectiveness of having a city employee take a vehicle home to improve response time if that employee lives in Winchester.

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chargdup 6 years, 2 months ago

Where I work, if there's an emergency, you come into work and then pick up a company car. From there, you're on the company's time.It must be nice to have taxpayers foot the bill for these workers to drive to and from work every day.

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chargdup 6 years, 2 months ago

"Corliss said some employees who live both in rural Douglas County and in neighboring counties take city vehicles home. Exact numbers weren't immediately available for this year, but according to the 2006 report, some city employees drove upward of 20 miles one way from home to work. In one case, one public works employee who drove nearly 15 miles one way was driving a vehicle that averaged 5 miles per gallon. Corliss said he's now exploring a guideline that would require take-home vehicles be assigned to employees who live within a certain distance of the city."How about just making it a requirement that if you work for the city, you live in the city? Problem solved (and not that unheard of).

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myvotecounts 6 years, 2 months ago

These employees taking home city vehicles doesn't bother me at all, because it does speed up after-hours response time, and because city vehicles are clearly marked. Nobody is going to drive one to have a drink at a bar, or on a road trip, because that activity would be obvious. I would be bothered, however, if too much is spent studying the issue, or if a policy is adopted simply because it gives the appearance of being more in control, but will ultimately cost more in money or after-hours response time.

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Kuku_Kansas 6 years, 2 months ago

Frankly, I have other concerns and issues that trump this absolutely-meaningless story.Municipalities and large city hall governments, nationwide, have allowed this for decades. Until I know the exact city policy, IRS code, "ethical" sound practice expectations, and history of abuse...I can't make an objective opinion on the use of city vehicles, because I don't know what I'm entirely talking about.I wish others would practice this approach before making selfish opinions on matters they actually know very little about. Anonymous Internet-posters...so quick to react and preach their self-righteous views; so slow to think.

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Chris Ogle 6 years, 2 months ago

Vehicle use is not the problem.............................Many privately owned businesses offer company owned vehicles to be driven to and from work. It encourages good work ethic, and most employees don't take advantage of the perk.The vehicle can also be a component in managing labor expense. I have said many times that if the City would operate like a "real business"... the taxpayers would reap the rewards. Let the city focus on "real issues".... like balancing staff and overtime. Just like the private sector, one minute they have too much help.... next minute paying overtime due to being under-staffed. Hint...hint... don't hire a consultant to figure this one out.Ask the department heads. If they don't know... then it is time to replace them.

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BigPrune 6 years, 2 months ago

Why have one person drive a gas guzzling pick up truck just to check water meters? Wouldn't it be more financially prudent to use an economy car with the pick up truck available should the need arise? What's it cost to fill up a pick up truck, $100-$120 per tank when compared to $60-$80 for a car that also gets better gas mileage?

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Kuku_Kansas 6 years, 2 months ago

And yes, I will remain anonymous.

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Ragingbear 6 years, 2 months ago

I nearly got into a wreck the other day when a woman in a Park and Rec truck nearly ran me off the road because she was too busy talking on her cell phone to notice. This is not the first time this has happened. If you call and report the plate number, they tell you that they do not know who has which trucks, and so you are just SOL.

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pace 6 years, 2 months ago

I think it makes sense. You want a city official come to your neighborhood meetings, broken water main, etc.? Build even more parking downtown? A lot of work goes on beyond 8 to 5, and outside of a cubical. I think it is a good system. Some people are on call. While the emergencies at your work may not require someone getting right there I think it would be a waste of time. Time is important. Leaving all the emergency or agency cars in a single lot every night has it own risk. If a tornado or high school senior hits that lot. They do not get paid for driving to and from work, They use to be allowed to drop off kids at day care which seemed reasonable to me.

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pace 6 years, 2 months ago

huh, the water line to your house is your responsibility, from the meter. I learned to turn off water at the meter when I was 7. Good job though.

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gbaker 6 years, 2 months ago

What I hate is the upper management paper pusher who drives the new F-150 work truck to meetings, lunch ETC. If you aren't going to get dirty than don't drive a work truck.

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wildcat91 6 years, 2 months ago

couranna1,you hit the nail on the head, just not like you may think.if city workers already receive vehicles or a stipend for vehicles then they will rightly require an increase in pay to bring their compensation package equal to what it is now. it makes more sense to let them continue to take the vehicles home because the added expense leans to the lower side when you figure they may not use it sometimes. if you have to increase their pay to make up for the lost benefit, then that rate does not fluctuate.how about limiting the number of gallons of fuel may be purchased using a city paid for fuel card. doesn't matter how far away you live. you get a set amount of gallons and then are on your own dime. don't set it by $ because the increases in price of fuel may limit it too much.

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triplegoddess13 6 years, 2 months ago

There do not need to be restrictions on where someone lives to be able to work for the city or the county. Does your job tell you where you have to live? No. You choose where you live based on what is best for you and your family. They can simply restrict who takes home cars or how far they can drive them.

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MrMister 6 years, 2 months ago

The city ( as well as those of us who live and pay taxes here) has a right to expect employees to live within a reasonable distance as the local taxes pay for their employment. I know of a Leawood firefighter that lives in Olathe. They require him to live within 30 minutes of the station. One of his fellow firefighters proved he could make it from Lawrence within 30 mins, so Larryville is on the approved cities for LFD. I have no idea how fast he had to drive to make that work.

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lawrencian 6 years, 1 month ago

boy, I wish I got to put all those commuting miles on a company-owned vehicle instead of my own!! It would be great for my personal vehicle insurance!This shouldn't be allowed at all, but at a minimum should be cut down to those employees (out of the 33) who live inside the city limits.

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tangential_reasoners_anonymous 6 years, 1 month ago

Yeah, I drive my office "vehicle" home every night... plush... adjustable armrests... lumbar support... five-wheeler.

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ksfunone 6 years, 1 month ago

You cant tell me that the city would have enough emergencies in 1 night to justify having 33 of there employees to drive vehicles home to save us time in the event that something would happen

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