The free ride is over

Our view: County cars should be used for business only

July 31, 2008

The decision to review Howard County's policy on take-home cars began with the simplest question:

Why him and not me?

Some complaints came anonymously to county Chief Administrative Officer Lonnie Robbins. Even his boss, County Executive Ken Ulman, wondered why some employees had take-home cars and others didn't. In the end, the concerns were justified, and Mr. Ulman rightly slashed by 60 percent the number of cars that employees can take home.

It's a perk that can't be justified in these tight economic times, even in well-to-do Howard County.

A three-month survey by the chief administrative officer found that there was no central control over the 207-vehicle fleet; department heads assigned the cars, and in some cases, most curiously, employees' commuter miles outnumbered their business miles. That all added up to reorganizing the administration of the fleet, reducing the take-home use and ensuring that the policy reflected the county's true needs. And the reduction in use touched all levels of county worker, from the police spokeswoman to deputy department heads, fire officials and sheriff's deputies. Police patrol officers with take-home cars were spared - as were members of Mr. Ulman's executive staff.

The cutback will generate about $700,000 in savings for the county next fiscal year, money that would be better spent on maintenance of the fleet and replacing more of it with hybrids or other fuel-efficient cars when the time comes.

For those who abused the privilege, you know who you are, and you only have yourself to blame.

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