MARCO ISLAND — Southwest Florida cities and counties are looking at whether government take-home vehicles are a necessary employee perk as they seek to drive down costs.
Marco Island recently identified several employees who were given city-owned and maintained cars, saving them money on commuting, but adding no value or service to the taxpayers or city.
Marco’s interim City Manager Jim Riviere said while there was a cost-savings, it wasn’t calculated in advance of the decision.
“It wasn’t really a budget-driven decision,” Riviere said. “It was a matter of prudence.”
Bonita Springs has been practicing such prudence for years, City Clerk Dianne Lynn said. City vehicles don’t go home with employees in Bonita, Lynn said.
The cost savings realized by Marco’s policy change couldn’t be provided, Riviere said, because take-home vehicle expenses weren’t calculated and tracked in the past.
A part-time Marco Island Police Department employee, Ray McChesney, will hold the new position of fleet manager in the city, Riviere said.
The position won’t require more than a couple of hours of work each week, Riviere said.
Marco Island Taxpayers Association President Fay Biles had been urging city officials to review their policy with city vehicles for years. Biles said she witnessed Marco Island vehicles being driven as far away as Fort Myers and Miami in the past.
“I’m very satisfied that the city manager has asked for these cars to be returned,” Biles said.
Most of the vehicles returned were used by employees in the public works department who didn’t respond to city business after-hours, Riviere said.
“I thought it was just fire and police that had cars. I learned there are many more,” Biles said.
“This is just not money that should be spent,” she added.
The change in Marco Island’s policy was announced by Riviere in early June, effective immediately.
While the names of those employees who gave up their cars weren’t released by Riviere, odds are they’re suffering a significant financial loss. Many Marco employees live in the Naples area and a full-time employee could spend about $200 per month in fuel alone for some of the longer commutes on and off the island.
The change in policy allows city employees to have take-home vehicles only if they are people who may be asked to make immediate responses on behalf of the city off-hours, Riviere said.
That policy now mirrors the policies of Naples, as well as Collier and Lee counties.
Trimming such privileges may have dramatic effects on the budget, according to data provided by these agencies.
Collier County government spends about $75,000 annually providing more than 40 vehicles for employees’ take-home use, spokesman John Torre said.
This doesn’t include Sheriff’s Office or school district vehicles. Some of these are for EMS and fire use, but the majority aren’t.
Building inspectors, 15 of whom work out of their homes, are the top users of Collier County government cars, accounting for at least a third of the annual expense.
County government policy restricts the cars and trucks from personal use, unless stopping for food or refreshment during working hours.
Lee County government’s policies are similar, said Marilyn Rawlings of fleet management. Only on-call employees may use them, Rawlings said.
There are seven permanent take-home vehicles in the city of Naples and all are for the police and fire departments, City Manager Bill Moss said.
There are six additional autos that are taken home by employees on a rotating basis for whoever is on-call at the time, Moss said, giving an example of utility workers who might get called in to work.
Still, some perks remain for top government employees in Naples and Marco Island. Directors often receive monthly car allowances ranging from $300 to $500. Ten employees in Naples receive such allowances costing the city nearly $50,000 annually.
Riviere said he doesn’t anticipate cutting directors’ car compensation because he doesn’t think it’s appropriate to rework employee contracts, particularly because many of them negotiated those contracts after a competition for the job.
Moss receives a $400 per month car allowance from the city of Naples. Riviere, a Marco resident, earns $500 monthly for a car allowance.