Employees' Use Of County Cars Is No Longer A Free Ride

March 19, 1992|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,Staff writer

No one is sure how many county-owned cars are going home with Anne Arundel employees every night, but county officials say the free ridesare going to stop.

Central Services Director Jerome W. Klasmeier sent out memos Tuesday to the county's department heads announcing that anyone taking home county cars will have to begin paying 18 cents a mile.

The memo was distributed with a packet of forms to be completed by the department directors justifying each car being

taken home, estimating the number of miles each car is driven daily and requiring the employee's signature.

Some 621 forms went out, Klasmeier said,but he acknowledged that no one is sure exactly how many employees drive home county cars each day.

Dennis Parkinson, chief administrative officer for County Executive Robert R. Neall, said the memo is part of an overall plan announced in December to exert control over a system that has gotten out of hand.

Some past department heads have had liberal ideas about who should have a county car, Parkinson said, resulting in a "significant proliferation" of cars for low-rankingofficials in such departments as Public Works, Utilities, and Recreation and Parks who were using them primarily to drive to and from work.

"I've got bureaucrats all over the place with cars," he said.

It costs about $3,000 annually to maintain and operate each vehicle, Parkinson said.

Parkinson said the policy was not conceived as acost-saving plan, but to impose consistent rules on a practice that until now has been unregulated. Under the new policy, department heads -- and other county employees required to be on call 24 hours a day-- will continue to have access to a take-home car but will be required to pay the 18-cents-a-mile fee for traveling to and from work. Sowill employees such as zoning inspectors, building inspectors and right-of-way agents whose work takes them on the road each day.

Parkinson said that, so far, about 70 people have given up the county cars, including deputy department heads.

"It isn't that we're trying to be punitive, but some people had cars for 10 or 15 years and it was just a perk that went with the job," he said.

The new policy is modeled after one used by the state, which levies fees based on length of one-way commute, Parkinson said.

Marked police cars will not be affected by the new policy.

Workers have been subject to federal tax on the use of their county car, essentially paying taxes as if the cars were equal to an income of $3 a day. Under the new policy, employees will not be subject to the federal tax, once they start paying the mileage fee, Klasmeier said.

Parkinson said the new policy also will include switching cars' license plates so that they are marked with the letters "LG," a local government designation that helps ensure the cars are used for county business only.

"When it has anLG on there, you tend not to see them in front of taverns or bars orwhatever," he said. He said undercover police cars and cars taken home by the county department heads will continue not to have the "LG" designation.

Tom Mullenix, assistant budget officer, was philosophical about giving up the county-owned 1985 Monte Carlo that he had been supplied with as an assistant budget officer. He's now driving hisown 1984 Chevy station wagon to work.

"County employment does notguarantee a car, except in certain positions," Mullenix said. "When you have money you can supply those kinds of perks to your workers, but when you don't have it, you can't. . . . I'm in the budget office,so I have to look at it that way."

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