One of the most attractive perks in county government becomes history this week when County Executive Robert R. Neall approves a new policy on take-home cars.
The policy, expected to be finalized Tuesdayor Thursday, will restrict the use of take-home county cars to department heads and workers whose jobs require them to be on the road, said Dennis Parkinson, Neall's chief administrative officer.
And for employees who do get to keep a county car, the benefit now will carry a price: a user's fee, about $20 for Anne Arundel residents and $60 for out-of-county residents, to be deducted from each biweekly paycheck.
The new policy, including the fees, is expected totake effect during the first January pay period, Parkinson said.
Though the use of county cars long has been a bone of contention among critics of county spending, Parkinson said the policy was not conceived as a cost-saving plan. Rather, it is designed to impose specific, consistent rules on a practice that, until now, has been completelyunregulated.
In the past, some department heads have had liberal ideas about who should have a county car, Parkinson said, resulting in a "significant proliferation" of cars for low-ranking officials. Not only that, but no written policy restricts use of the car to countybusiness, he said.
Neither Parkinson nor Jerome Klasmeier, the central services officer who oversees the county fleet, says he suspects any significant abuse among county car-users. Regular odometer checks reveal anyone racking up excessive personal mileage, Klasmeier said.
But Louise Hayman, Neall's press secretary, observed that some county car users do not own personal cars because of their governmentperk.
"It's been a touchy issue with the public, but it's also been an issue among employees who feel others get a perquisite they don't share," said Hayman. "It's been an unevenly managed perquisite."
Under the new policy, department heads -- required to be on call 24hours a day -- will continue to have access to a take-home car, although they will have to pay for the privilege. So will employees such as zoning inspectors, who work on the road.
But many others who now have county cars, including deputy department heads, will have to give them up, Parkinson said.
Some of the confiscated cars will be auctioned; others will be turned into "pool" cars to be used by a number of county employees, he said.
"Virtually all" of the county's 106 unmarked cars, mostly late 1980s American sedans, now are assigned to individuals, Klasmeier said. In a survey conducted last month, department heads recommended that 14 of those cars be auctioned and 19pooled.
Department heads also suggested that 41 marked cars be auctioned and 21 pooled, said Klasmeier. Neither Parkinson nor Klasmeier could say how many marked cars the county owns.
Police cars would not be affected by the new policy.
It costs about $3,000 annually to maintain and operate each car, Parkinson said. Money to operate 75 automobiles already has been cut from the last half of fiscal 1992, and county government wants to permanently eliminate or alter the status of at least that many cars.
The new fee schedule for take-home car users is modeled on one used by state government, which leviesfees based on length of one-way commute, Parkinson said. Once they start paying the fee, workers who are now subject to federal tax on the use of their county car will no longer have to declare the perk to the IRS.