The Colusa County Board of Supervisors last week agreed to tweak its vehicle use policy rather than restrict certain law enforcement employees from taking their county vehicles home.
County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler said 17 county employees, most employed at the Sheriff’s Office, are authorized to take fleet vehicles to and from their homes outside their regular shifts, although the county’s policy limits the allowance to positions subject to frequent emergencies after hours, unscheduled first responder work, and call backs to locations other than their primary place of duty.
The county could also consider assignments that serve the best economic interest of taxpayers, or situations deemed necessary by the board or department head, the policy states.
Tyler had recommended to the board at their March 20 meeting that they authorize only 15 take-home vehicles this year, withdrawing approval for two Sheriff’s office employees to drive vehicles home because they did not meet the criteria of responding to “frequent” emergencies.
In fact, two employees had not been called to an emergency or called to return to work after hours in the past 12 months, she said.
The Board of Supervisors, following the first discussion, asked Tyler to bring the matter back to the April 3 meeting with a cost analysis before they made a decision to remove the vehicles.
“I tried to get under several different data,” Tyler said. “It is somewhat difficult to cost it, because I did not have the full mileage the vehicles traveled in the course of a year, all the maintenance records and things like that, and quite frankly, with the Sheriff’s Department not having a fiscal person, I was kind of in a rush to get this back to (the board).”
However, Tyler, who ran several scenarios, said the county spends about $85,000 each year on insurance and fuel costs for all 17 vehicles for both regular and after hours use. At the IRS reimbursement rate, which employees could be taxed on as a perk, Tyler estimated the cost of the vehicles for use after hours would be about $10,625 for all 17. Employees who live out of the county drive five of the 17 vehicles.
“It was very hard to come up with solid numbers,” Tyler said. “At a minimum, if we reimbursed one employee, who has a very short commute, at the IRS rate, it could be $200 a year is all it costs us. But it could also be upwards to $6,000 if you look at fuel and insurance because the primary use is commuting back and forth.”
Regardless of cost, Tyler said the policy specifically states only employees who are frequently called to unscheduled work or to emergencies should be commuting in county vehicles.
Employees who met the criteria of the policy include the sheriff, assistant sheriff, two lieutenants, task force commander, one investigator, deputies assigned to the Williams, Arbuckle, and Maxwell areas, District Attorney, two members of the DA staff, and two public works employees.
Colusa County Sheriff Joe Garofalo argued that removing vehicles from two of his top staff because they had not responded to an emergency in the past 12 months would be like dismantling the dive team because there was no drowning.
Garofalo said that should there be an emergency outside of their normal duty, then the time to retrieve a county vehicle and equipment could cause an “unacceptable delay in response time.”
The Board of Supervisors agreed, and decided to change its policy so that the board has more discretion in assigning county vehicles to employees.
“We either follow the policy or not,” said Chairman Gary Evans said. “If we’re not going to follow it, then we need to change it.”
Employees who are allowed to take a county vehicle are prohibited from using the vehicle for personal reasons, other than for stops along their regular route to and from home, Tyler said. ■