BERLIN – A minor change in the town’s policy on employee take-home cars, allowing the only remaining department head without the privilege into the club, sparked concern from citizens at this week’s Berlin Town Council meeting.
Until Monday night, only one of Berlin’s eight department heads, Stacey Weisner of Planning and Zoning, was not allowed a town provided car.
The allotment of cars evolved over the years, said Council Vice President Gee Williams, and does not reflect on Weisner or the Planning and Zoning department.
“I don’t know why one department head was left out of the scheme of things,” said Councilman Dean Burrell. “We need to treat everyone the same.”
Williams added, “I think it’s equitable. I think we should have a consistent policy for all department heads. I couldn’t justify where there was an exception.”
Williams said that a take-home car is a necessary perk in a competitive employment market.
“We can’t always offer more money, but we can certainly offer more incentives to have the best qualified people serving our town,” Williams said.
“I agree with Gee,” said Council member Ellen Lang.
The town council voted to change the wording of the policy from “certain employees” to “department heads.”
“We’re extending the privilege to one additional department head,” said Lang.
Those with town provided cars are only authorized to use the vehicles to commute, said town attorney Dave Gaskill.
“They’re still used by the department during regular business hours. It’s not a restricted vehicle,” said town Administrator Linda Bambary.
The code enforcement officer might use the Planning and Zoning vehicle during the day, for example.
Employees are taxed as if they derived income from the cars at a rate of $3 per day of use.
The figure seemed low to citizen Jim Hoppa, but it was taken from IRS guidelines when the town started keeping track of that tax information several years ago, said Bambary.
Some town citizens were unsure that they approve of the policy.
“I don’t understand the necessity to change the policy,” said Paul Gorman.
Lang reminded Gorman the town “only changed two words.”
The town council received a request to provide a car for the Planning and Zoning head, said Williams. The change in wording makes the policy more clear.
“I always get a little upset when you change policy,” said Gorman, who did not see the need to alter this one.
“It clarifies ‘certain employees’ and it doesn’t leave any room for preferential treatment or the perception of preferential treatment,” said Bambary.
Hoppa questioned the overall policy, saying, “The employees here got a substantial raise with the budget.”
Williams said the change will not have an impact on the town’s finances.
“I don’t think it’s causing any adverse effect on our budget,” Williams said.
Mayor Tom Cardinale said he does not support the policy.
“I [only] want the people who are on call any time day or night to have a vehicles,” he said.
Cardinale cited the cost of gas and maintenance for the town’s cars. The town pays for fuel, maintenance and insurance, Bambary said.
Weisner said, “I’m very appreciative. I’m tickled about the car.”