By Kim Siebert MacPhail
A unanimous vote by the Selectmen on Monday night made revisions to the Town vehicle take-home policy for 10 out of a total of 19 vehicles. A similar agreement about the 9 Facilities Department vehicles is under discussion and awaits approval by the School Committee.
A memo from Town Manager Rick Reed’s office that accompanied the Selectmen’s discussion of the issue stated that the vehicle assignment policy was first established in 1992 and updated in 1997. The differences between the 1997 version of the policy and the one approved by Selectmen on Monday are three-fold:
On-call, emergency response employees who are assigned vehicles will now be required to submit a monthly log of their commuting mileage.
The updated policy clearly states that the Town will report the value of an employer-provided vehicle to the IRS for income tax purposes. This benefit has always been reported, as required, but until the update the policy did not clearly state that fact.
A 20-mile, one-way commuting limitation will be placed on future hires whose jobs require or merit a take-home vehicle, although current employees are grandfathered with regard to the mileage limitation. When vacancies for these positions occur, commuting mileage for a new hires will be taken into account on a case-by-case basis.
Selectmen Chair Bill Moonan, who was a member of a small working group established to look into the take-home vehicle issue, said that although he knows some in the community would prefer it, entirely discontinuing current practices is not practical.
“A significant number of these vehicles are for safety officers—Police and Fire—who are definitely first responders. There is [also] a group of vehicles that are assigned to people who are part of a bargaining unit. A vehicle is a condition of their employment and is not currently possible to remove that vehicle. Other vehicles are maybe not legally conditions of employment, but they are certainly what the employee considers to be part of his employment; to remove them would change their remuneration in ways that I don’t think the Town wants to go,” Moonan said.
“We have examined what could be done and we have set up a way to go forward. The single biggest thing that’s going on here is the addition of the log—immediately—that will remind employees what their obligations are and also give us a sense of how the vehicle is actually being used. As each situation comes up where people retire, we’ll have an opportunity to decide what we need to do in terms of being competitive in hiring people and in terms of compensating employees, so it won’t be automatic [that a vehicle is part of the employment package], going forward,” Moonan added.
About the School Committee’s adoption of a similar policy regarding the nine Facilities Department take-home vehicles, Moonan said that he has met with Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills and School Committee Chair Ed Pierce and that they expressed no concerns with the policy as written. The next step is for a full School Committee discussion to be scheduled with the goal of gaining final approval.