By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A subcommittee comprised of two Selectmen and two Finance Committee members has completed a study of Bedford’s municipal employee take-home vehicles. Take-home vehicles are defined as those used by employees for town business and for commuting between home and work, but bought and maintained by the Town. While Bedford has a “more generous” town vehicle assignment policy compared to other towns, the subcommittee concluded that little could be done immediately to remedy the situation.However, the study did identify recommendations for eventual changes to the vehicle policy.
Relative to other towns, Bedford provides substantially more take-home vehicles to its municipal employees. In the range of other towns studied, the community with the fewest take-home vehicles has just 3 and the community with the highest number—other than Bedford—has12.
Currently, Bedford has 19 town vehicles assigned to municipal staff members who work in jobs in 4 categories:
- 8 safety vehicles (driven by police, fire, and code enforcement personnel);
- 1 Town vehicle (driven by the Town Manager);
- 3 DPW vehicles (driven by the Director and two operations managers); and
- 7 Facilities vehicles.
All of the vehicles are Ford models: 7 sedans, 3 SUVs, 3 F-150 pick-up trucks, and 3 E-350 vans.
The subcommittee’s study showed that in all of the surveyed towns, vehicles were assigned to the police chief, fire chief, and highway operations manager;most towns—although not all—also supplied vehicles to the second in command in these departments. For the towns that have more than 3 assigned vehicles, many provide vehicles to staff who would act as first responders in the case of emergencies.
One factor that made direct comparison more difficult for the subcommittee was that only one of the studied towns had a Facilities department. Bedford’s Facilities Department was created through a cooperative agreement between the Town and the Schools. The personnel and the functions of the Facilities Department are shared between the Town and the School budgets. The study revealed that all7 of Bedford’s take-home vehicles are assigned to the Facilities staff who work for the School side of the department rather than for the Town side.
The report noted that of the 7 Facilities vehicles, none are assigned to the Facilities Director.
It also goes on to say explain that:
“[a]t the formation of the Facilities Department, vehicles were made available to employees and are now considered to be a ‘condition of employment.’ As such, if the School Committee were to try to eliminate the commuting use of the vehicles, the employees, as members of a collective bargaining unit, would want to negotiate to retain use of the vehicles or to be compensated in some other form. The outcome of such a negotiation is uncertain. In any case, the Town would still need to own or maintain the vehicles. The result could be a greater expense to the Town.”
All of the Facilities-assigned vehicles are either trucks or vans that travel between 11,500 and 31,400 miles per year, which the report characterized as “more than the average.”One vehicle, it was noted, is driven over 90 miles daily in the round trip commute between home and work.
Since immediate reversal of contractual agreements was seen as impossible—and possibly ill-advised—the subcommittee suggested strategies that could lead eventually to an improved vehicle policy:
- Re-evaluate each position as staff turns over with regard to how necessary a take-home vehicle is to the job.
- Establish a cap for mileage (10–5 miles each way) that the town will absorb.
- Shift from providing take-home vehicles to mileage reimbursements for certain positions.
- Set a reasonable commuting distance limitation for employees who would act as emergency first responders.
- Ensure that all non-emergency personnel who currently have take-home vehicles are receiving W-2 compensation report forms in accordance with IRS regulations.
- Require that mileage logs be submitted for review and verified monthly against odometer readings.
The report concluded with these statements:
“As the above recommendations indicate, there are very few vehicles that can easily be eliminated at this time. Recognizing this to be the case, every attempt should be made not to perpetuate the status quo. . . .While current practice is in accordance with the Selectmen’s policy, it is recommended that more control be exercised over the use of vehicles.”