Jones commission studying limiting take-home vehicle use

Jones County spent about $45,000 last year for fuel to allow more than 20 county employees to drive county owned vehicles to and from work.

That does not include sheriff's deputies, who also take their patrol vehicles home.

But in an hourlong work session before Tuesday's Board of Commissioners meeting, the commissioners and department heads they questioned could come up with only about $4,600 in annual savings by having a handful of employees park their vehicles at the end of the day.

Commissioner David Gault had requested the work session to try to find ways to cut the county's budget.

"Maybe we could save a good bit of money if we only let essential, on-call employees drive vehicles home," he said. "The state has already started that with some of their departments, and I think we should do the same."

Last week, the Gray City Council voted to limit the number of Public Works employees who could take vehicles home from eight to three. Mayor pro-tem Loretta Lipsey said it was a cost-saving measure, though the council wasn't sure how much money it would save.

But during Tuesday's commission work session, it was difficult for the commissioners and county department heads to agree on who was essential or not, so no definitive action was taken.

There was some agreement that a few of the vehicles now being taken home could be parked at the end of the day, which led to the $4,600 in savings. But there was no real agreement on others.

Water superintendent Freddie Wiggins said he had already stopped allowing six employees to take vehicles home, but he still has four to five, depending on who is on call at night and weekends, to drive vehicles home.

Public Works now has seven supervisors who are allowed to take trucks home, and director Laten Boniol said to stop the practice would make it more difficult for his people to respond to emergencies.

"All of the supervisors who take home trucks have the chain saws and other tools on them they need to help clear trees from roads if we have a storm," he said. "And they are divided between the north, south and central parts of the county, so they can respond from home when there is a problem. If we make them leave them at work, they will have to come to Gray, get their trucks and then go back out to handle the problems. That will be a big delay in getting crews to work to clear the roads and could wind up costing the county more than what it is now spending on gas."

Boniol and other department heads also said they had been told the privilege of driving county vehicles back and forth from home to work was part of their compensation packages when they were hired.

"I was told it went along with my salary, insurance and other benefits," said Chief Appraiser Linda Sibley. "It was to make up for not being paid as much as in some places."

But Gault said he had never heard that having a county vehicle to drive was a part of anyone's compensation and that it was not in writing.

"Those who have been told that shouldn't have been," Gault said. "We (the commissioners) have never voted to make that part of people's pay."

But Commissioner Larry Childs said it has long been accepted that use of a county vehicle went with some positions, namely those in which the employee may be called into work after hours. But he said the commissioners and department heads should try to limit the number of people in that category and save money all they can.

"And those who do drive county vehicles home should be reminded that they are only to use them for county business and to go to and from work, not to use them for personal business," said Commissioner Mell Merritt.

Though they took no official action, the commissioners said they would continue to study the matter and try to limit the number of on-call employees who drive vehicles home.

During the regular meeting, the commissioners agreed to allow Steven Smith to use the W.E. Knox Civic Center at the nonprofit rental rate for a community theater he is hoping to form, and they approved a planning and zoning request from Tracey Butts to operate a childcare center serving up to six children at her home at 118 John Michael Drive.

They also approved new rental rates for the old Bradley school on Ga. 11 for use by the Bradley-Wayside Auction Co. The men who have rented the facility for $401 a month and operated the livestock auction for the last six years want to sell the business, but they needed the commissioners to agree on a new rental rate before they can get new owners to take over.

Gault recommended charging $550 a month for the first six months, then increasing the rent to $600 a month for the remainder of the three-year lease. The commissioners approved those rates and gave county attorney Frank Childs the authority to negotiate the lease with the new owners when they are chosen.

To contact writer Chuck Thompson, call 744-4489.