By Kim Siebert MacPhail
Of the 19 take-home vehicles assigned to Bedford Town employees, 7 of them are in Facilities, a department that divides its work proportionately between the Schools and the Town. At Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting, Director of Facilities Richard Jones presented information about how the practice of providing take-home vehicles for Facilities employees developed, how many miles are driven by these vehicles annually, what the yearly fuel and operating costs are, how replacement purchases are scheduled and what benefits the practice of providing take-home vehicles yields.
The School Committee did not take any action on the issue at this meeting; instead, the point of the presentation was to gather information that would help in future deliberations.
Mr. Jones’ presentation included:
- The seven vehicles are 1 carpenter’s van, 1 electrician’s van, 1 boiler technician’s van, 1 plumber’s truck, 1 HVAC van, 1 maintenance technician’s truck, 1 operations manager’s pick-up truck. Most vehicles are equipped with shelving and drawers to carry supplies and tools. One School Committee member commented, after seeing photographs of six of the seven vehicles, that they were like “rolling tool sheds.”
- The practice of allowing employees to take home work vehicles predates the creation of the Facilities Department in 1997.
- One person in the Facilities Department is always on call for after-hour and weekend emergencies.
- Personal use of work vehicles—other than commuting and work-related trips—is not allowed.
- Employees are required to pay state and federal taxes on the value of their take-home vehicle. The value is calculated by the Town’s Finance Director.
- The longest commute in the Facilities Department is 49 miles and the shortest if 5.5 miles.
- Total miles driven in a year for the 7 vehicles—combining both work and commuting—is 83,718 miles; the average per vehicle is 11,959.
- Commuting miles, at 56.4% or 47,189 miles, make up the majority of the total mileage driven.
- Fuel costs in 2012 were $11,071 with the average of $1,518 per vehicle.
- Maintenance costs, based on FY12 figures for the 7 vehicles, were $1,750 per vehicle.
- Target mileage for vehicle replacement: $100,000
- Bedford’s new Asset Management software schedules vehicle replacement every 5 years; the DPW practice/rule of thumb has been 6-7 years.
Benefits to the Town:
- A higher level of service is provided because response time is shortened in emergency situations.
- Tools can be secured in the vehicles.
- A building to house and protect Town vehicles does not have to be built.
- Bedford can offer an attractive benefit when hiring that compensates for the relatively lower starting pay compared to what tradesmen can in the private sector.
- It was noted that, if the Town were to withdraw the take-home vehicle benefit, the vehicles would still be needed for work. Additionally, there is no secure place to park vehicles overnight and during weekends: the DPW lot is already crowded and the middle school, where the Facilities Department is located, has been the site of multiple vandalism incidents in the past.
Jones reported that six of the seven employees in the Facilities Department who have take-home vehicles have them as a condition of employment, a benefit that is spelled out in their work contracts.
Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills made clear that the debate was not about whether the work vehicles were needed; instead, the debate was about whether or not the vehicles should be used for commuting as well as for work. Facilities Director Jones agreed, although he added that, to his way of thinking, commuting miles did not shorten the useful life of the vehicle because the vehicles are on a replacement cycle, regardless of mileage.
Committee member Ed Pierce raised the question of whether employees were making multiple, unnecessary trips to the hardware store. Jones said that he keeps an eye on this and he doesn’t see signs of it happening.
“If one person needs something and he knows that someone else on the staff is going, they ask him to pick it up for them so there aren’t two separate trips,” Jones said. “Now that there’s a hardware store in town that has a pretty good selection of items, we often go there for things; sometimes we have stuff shipped to us directly. We do go to O’Connor’s pretty often to get materials or equipment that we can’t get locally here in Bedford. Sometimes we go to Home Depot. There’s a variety, [but] I pay attention to this. I don’t think we’re going back and forth to the store, just to waste time.”
Finance Committee member Rich Bowen, also in attendance at the meeting, wondered if the one Facilities take-home vehicle with the highest commute—49 miles per day—had become the “cause celebre” or flashpoint for the take-home vehicle issue at large. An accounting of average miles driven daily by the seven vehicles was requested to gain a better understanding of how much the majority of vehicles are driven.
“If the average [commute] is 5.5 miles, for heaven’s sake, let’s move on,” Bowen said. “If the average is close to 49 miles, then it needs to stay on the agenda.”
School Committee Chair Anne Bickford asked Jones to provide, at a future meeting, data showing the average mileage driven per vehicle.