Catoosa County: Take-home cars questioned

Catoosa County: Take-home cars questioned

January 18th, 2009 by Beverly Carroll in Georgia

Staff Photo by Patrick Smith<br> Catoosa County Public Works employee Lebron Norrell talks about the county truck, which he takes home each night while working on Brock Circle in Catoosa County on Thursday. Catoosa County Public Works has recently gone from four to two cars for employees to take home due to the downturn in the economy.

RINGGOLD - Some local residents said they are concerned about misuse of Catoosa County vehicles, but county officials said they have cut the number of take-home cars and increased accountability for vehicle maintenance and use.

Catoosa County resident Phyllis Williams recently requested information about county-owned cars and cell phone use. Ms. Williams said she believed some employees used their cars to run personal errands.

New County Commission Chairman Keith Greene said he is not concerned about misuse of county vehicles, but he will look at those expenses as part of an overall review of county operating costs.

"It is something we are going to look at as we look for ways to cut costs," Mr. Greene said last week. "We will be coming out with some cost-cutting measures Tuesday (at the commission meeting)."

Commissioner Ken Marks disputed statements that employees misuse cars. Excluding the sheriff's department vehicles, the county owns 16 automobiles; 12 are take-home vehicles and four are pool cars that employees use for county business or to attend training sessions.

"I have gotten calls from people reporting that they see employees eating lunch and they are in county cars," Mr. Marks said. "I say, 'So? They are working a job. Are they supposed to leave the job, drive back to the county office, get their personal car, go to lunch and then come back and drive back to the job?'"

Employees who have take-home cars, excluding the sheriff's department, have jobs that require them to be on call or travel extensively during the day, county officials said. Three vehicles are assigned to animal control employees, who respond to calls to pick up dead and stray animals, officials said.

Donald "Buster" Brown, head of the public works department, travels to inspect job sites. He often inspects areas around West Chickamauga Creek when there have been heavy rains.

"We get called out sometimes on the weekends, and when we have heavy rains, we end up driving all over the county," Mr. Brown said. "And we have to check on calls about illegal burning and they are usually on the weekends."

Chuck Taylor, head of the roads department, has cut two cars from his department. He uses his personal vehicle at work.

"I cut down the number of take-homes when I first got here," Mr. Taylor said. "The people who have them now are those who are on call for emergencies."

County Finance Department official Michelle Sterling said county-owned cars save money, even including vehicle maintenance. She enforces a policy that requires employees to use fleet vehicles for daily business.

"I make people take fleet vehicles so that we do not have to reimburse them (for mileage)," Ms. Sterling said.

The county reimburses mileage at 58.5 cents a mile. If an employee attends a training session in Atlanta, the savings mount for county cars, she said.

The county's gas is cheaper than commercial rates. But even commercial costs are cheaper than mileage reimbursement for a trip to Atlanta, she said.

At $1.60 a gallon, "that's about $16. If we reimbursed mileage, it could cost as much as $140 for a trip," Ms. Sterling said.

A total cost for the fleet was not available Friday. The cost is spread out over six departments and filed by categories including fuel and repairs.

Mr. Greene did not provide details about what cost-cutting measures he plans to unveil at the commission meeting. The shaky economy has caused revenue collections to drop in recent months. The county's challenge is to find ways to increase revenues without raising taxes or cutting services, Mr. Greene has said.