Chattanooga city employees who have take-home cars soon will have to pay for the privilege.
Come mid-January, city workers living inside Chattanooga will be charged 20 cents a mile and those living outside the city will pay 30 cents a mile if they take their cars home, according to city officials.
Chattanooga police Sgt. Craig Joel, vice president of the Chattanooga Chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, said many officers will begin driving their personal vehicles to work instead of paying the charge.
"This is going to destroy our response times and the structure we base our responses on," Joel said.
Instead of driving home at the end of a shift, officers will have to drive to wherever they left their personal vehicles and leave all their equipment in their patrol car.
"The advantage of taking the cars home was to have us completely outfitted for anything that should arise and go from [our] house to the emergency," Joel said. "That is being eliminated for the price of a few gallons of gas."
Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield said in a phone interview Thursday that the mileage charge, which was part of the 2010-11 budget that took effect July 1, will save about $500,000.
"We're starting midyear to give the employees six months to get prepared for it," he said.
When employees do the math, he said, they'll probably find it still costs less to drive a city vehicle back and forth to work than their personal cars.
Chattanooga City Council Chairman Manny Rico said the city is doing all it can to cut corners on the budget. He said the council was trying to prevent layoffs and tax hikes.
"Everybody needs to pitch in and try to cut corners," Rico said. "If we raise property taxes, it affects a lot of people."
Joel estimated it could cost officers $200 to $400 a month, but the ultimate cost will be in response times.
He said specialty units such as K-9 cars and SWAT team members will be most affected.
"We may have to drive past an emergency to get to our equipment," Joel said. "When we are in our personal vehicles they are subject to the same traffic laws as everyone else, if there is traffic it's going to take longer to get to our patrol cars.
"The bottom line is this is going to do egregious harm," he said.