OCEAN CITY — Today marks the day when the town of Ocean City takes back the take-home vehicles.
Depending on whom you ask, the quest to trim back the town’s take-home vehicle fleet dates back a number of months or years, but now that the council’s recent decision to cut 63 percent of employee take-home cars has gone into effect, the sting of that decision has not fully faded away.
“I know there’s a lot of people who aren’t happy about this,” said Councilman Joe Hall, “but I really think that those people who are angry really need to get a good perspective on this issue and be happy that they still have their jobs in these economic times.”
Hall’s sentiments and stance on this issue seem to be the consensus when talking to some of his colleagues on the council.
Margaret Pillas, who not only was a huge proponent of scaling back the town’s fleet of 71 take-home vehicles, but was also the most radical in her desire to take all of the vehicles away, said that she is still glad to see the decision is finally taking effect.
“I haven’t heard about people being upset with this decision,” said Pillas. “What I’ve heard is that people are glad we finally did something about these vehicles, and I truly believe that people are coming to terms with how bad this economy is, and this is just one of the things that needed to be done.”
The council took City Manager Dennis Dare’s recommendation to cut 45 of the 71 vehicles two weeks ago, thus saving the town of Ocean City almost $90,000. The vehicles will now be parked at their respective departmental headquarters and essentially used by the town employees during work hours and will be signed out for usage, much like one would sign out a library book.
The departments of public safety and public works were the two hardest hit in the resort, as 24 of the 45 cars came from those two departments, including the removal of cars from two captains, six lieutenants, one sergeant, a corporal and four detectives.
On the public works side, the department heads of water, wastewater, transportation, construction and the airport all have lost their vehicles. Six of those department heads boast combined service to the town of Ocean City to the tune of 119 years.
“If you look at it that way, I think people can understand why some of these gentleman are a bit upset because they almost feel like a promise has been broken,” said Public Works Director Hal Adkins. “When these men were hired, or as they advanced, the vehicle became part of their package or agreement with the town so to speak, and now a part of that has been taken away.”
Adkins said that although the employees that he oversees in the public works department are not happy with the decision to cut back the take-home vehicle fleet, he says that they understand why the city felt it needed to go down that path and make such a change.
Apparently, the decision has also sparked concern from the Fraternal Order of Police, who announced plans to file a grievance with the Labor Commissioner citing their displeasure with the town’s lack of communication with the FOP before the decision.
Still, council members are sticking to their guns about the change, calling it a necessity, albeit a difficult one.
“I was very conflicted with this decision and I said that after we voted,” said Councilman Doug Cymek, “but we have worked really hard to keep people working in the town of Ocean City, and 30 miles up the road, people are in turmoil and there are layoffs and furloughs. We have tried very hard not to do those things and keep our people working, and we are in a good financial situation in Ocean City because we made those $2.7 million in budget cuts last year.”
Council President Joe Mitrecic agreed with Cymek, citing that the time had come for the “perks to be taken away.”
“I have a hard time feeling sorry for someone having to give back their vehicle when they’ve got two or three cars of their own sitting in their driveway,” said Mitrecic. “Why should the taxpayers of Ocean City have to pay the money? I know there is grumbling about this, but we are trying to maintain and sustain our way of life in Ocean City and sometimes we have to make tough decisions.”