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Policies for take-home vehicles warrant discussion

April 18, 2009
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The findings of an audit undertaken to determine if vehicles assigned to city employees and used to commute to and from work were being properly managed probably had administrators reaching for the Tums.

The city is not only paying insurance on 75 more vehicles than the municipality apparently owns, its policies are lacking, do not meet IRS mandates, and are not wholly followed anyway.

Among the findings, as cited in the report:

- The city's policies concerning take-home vehicles are inadequate and in need of revision. The administration is aware of the deficiencies and has been working on an updated policy. Neither the current policy nor the draft revisions, however, contain adequate provisions for managing the use of city-owned vehicles.

- The city's Fleet Management Standard Operating Procedure is detailed but does not cover policies and procedures for managing the city-owned fleet.

- The city is not in compliance with IRS regulations regarding employer-owned vehicles being driven home by employees.

The city has some employees who should have had their personal use of city-provided vehicles added to their wages but did not. Others, who should not have, had the "benefit" added as taxable income.

"We currently are not in compliance with IRA rules," the audit states. "The City could be subject to fines and penalties and our City employees could be in jeopardy of negative tax consequences."

- Personal use of city vehicles is not well documented and so use is difficult to measure.

- Only Police and Human Resources have attempted to justify the use of vehicles by those using them.

- Of the 26 non-sworn, non-certified individuals assigned take-home vehicles, 22 live in Cape Coral, three live in Fort Myers and one commutes from Punta Gorda. The estimated number of commuting miles per year, total, is 90,000 miles. Comparing this number to actual miles driven, 45-50 percent of the miles put on these assigned vehicles is for commuting.

- The odometer readings on some reports were "erratic" making it impossible to determine how many miles were driven, made the miles per gallon calculations incorrect, and so distorted overall use reports for the fleet.

- The actual number of on-road vehicles used in the Annual Utilization Report for 2008 is wrong. The reports states the city has 595 on-road vehicles; the audit accounts for 845.

- The compiled listing for insured vehicles is wrong. The listing included 920 on-road vehicles. The final count was 845, including 14 vehicles not on the original inventory report.

- Job descriptions for some employees assigned a take-home car do not include on-call or "non-compensated" business reasons although that is why the city assigns a take-home vehicle to a position.

- Not all departments keep logs for vehicles taken from the pool fleet. Of those that told the auditor they kept logs, none provided logs when asked to. Failure to keep records that meet IRS requirements could result in additional record keeping and also could result in a "negative tax consequence for the employees."

That's the bad news.

The good is that the city's administration agrees with virtually all of the auditor's recommendations for correction and has, in fact, begun working on some of those suggestions since the report was received early last month.

We commend the administration for doing so.

We also urge city council to use this report as a starting point to revisit the take-home vehicle policy for not only the non-emergency, perhaps-on-call "commuters" but also public safety personnel.

As the audit amply demonstrated, a periodic review of policies and a weighing of the costs and benefits resulting from those policies always is prudent.

In these tight budget times - times that are assuredly going to become tighter - it just makes sense to look at policies that include an employee benefits component.

It may well be that the Cape's criteria for take-home vehicles continues to provide a public benefit. But also, as the audit indicates, it may well be that the bulk of the miles driven are for just that, simple commuting, and not a call to action from home or elsewhere.

The number of emergency call-backs should be easy to quantify. Get those numbers and bring this issue to the table for discussion.

- Breeze editorial

 
 

 

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