There were a lot of angry folks this week after the Mayor and Council’s decision on take-home vehicles. The fumes emanating from some of the department heads and lower level staff as a result of the decision is understandable, although the decision was the right one for the city to make.
It’s no surprise 26 take-home vehicles will no longer be going home with a variety of employees, including police detectives, public works employees, fire and bomb squad personnel, airport, risk and golf course managers and others. This move was expected to be a sweeping change. That’s essentially what the council ordered to be done months ago. In all, it’s expected to save about $80,000 annually in fuel, routine maintenance and unexpected repairs. In general, that’s not a lot of money for a government like Ocean City. However, these are not typical times and no cost-saving measure can be ignored when balanced budgets are increasingly difficult to achieve.
The city will be in a financial pickle until the next property reassessment is conducted. That’s when it will be known if the last property value decline is continuing or if values have started to eek back up. Until then, accounts payable reductions will have to be made to offset declining revenues from property taxes. It’s a simple approach, but that does not mean the decisions are made easily.
City Manager Dennis Dare and members of the council wrestled with this decision. The cutback seemed to pain many officials, but it was the proper call. A take-home vehicle is a perk and not everyone needs one. We actually question whether anyone needs to have a vehicle provided by an employer for home use. Some folks have become incredibly reliant on their city-owned vehicles with at least one case of an employee reportedly not having a vehicle other than the one provided by the town. That means the vehicle was used for private purposes as well as work details.
This situation surely is the exception rather than the norm, but that does not diminish the need for change. We have said it before, but it bears repeating. Working for government, whether it’s as a teacher, police officer, garbage man or department secretary, is a good gig. Generally, there are no better health insurance policies, sick leaves, vacation days and working conditions than in the public arena.
Removing a perk like a take-home vehicle is a far better option than major payroll reductions, which many in private industry are approving through position eliminations and furlough days. It’s the lesser of two evils, but it’s required.