Archive for Wednesday, September 3, 2008

City’s vehicle take-home policy restrictive

Only two on-call pickups go home with employeees

September 3, 2008

Elvyn J. Jones

ejones@theworldco.info

Doug Smith, sewer department supervisor for the city of De Soto, said he has seen the policy of taking vehicles home evolve over the years.

Early in this decade when Gerald Cooper was city administrator, employees were charged for taking city vehicles home after work, Smith said. Later, he was offered the opportunity to take a pickup to and from work in lieu of a raise, he said.

The city current policy is to allow the employee on call in the sewer department and water department to take a vehicle home, City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said. Employees are not asked to maintain logs of the vehicle use, but - as Guilfoyle explained to the De Soto City Council during a budget meeting - their mileage can be tracked through fuel statements.

Partly becasue the city contracts its police service from the Johnson County Sheriff's Office, it has a much more limited vehicle take-home policy than many nearby cities its size. The De Soto USD 232's policy is simpler. No one is allowed to take district vehicles home for the night, district community relations director Alvie Cater said.

In the two-man sewer department, he is usually the on-call person, Smith said.

He appreciates the policy, especially as gas prices neared $4 a gallon this summer, but Smith said city residents also benefit. He estimated he could get to most off-hour calls from his Eudora home in 12 minutes when he has a pickup loaded in the driveway. If he had to stop at the sewer plant on 79th Street, unlock the gates, switch vehicles and lock the gate as he left, response time would double, he said.

""People get pretty excited when their sewer is backing up," he said.

De Soto Water Department supervisor Clarence Brunk said response time to waterline breaks, tower meter malfunctions or other off-hour problems would also suffer if an equipped department pickup wasn't sent home with the designated first responding on-call employee. In case the water department, the person would first have to drive the city's water treatment plant on the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to get a vehicle.

The primary on-call person is usually the water department's maintenance man, Dennis Smith. It is his job to get to problem site, assess the situation and then call Brunk to discuss how many more water department personnel should respond, Brunk said.

The department averages about one such call a week, Brunk said. But that number is much higher during very cold stretches in the winter and later thaws when shifting ground breaks waterlines, he said.

Two years ago, De Soto City Councilwoman Betty Cannon voiced concern about the practice of city employees taking city-owned vehicles home and still has reservations.

"Because the vehicles were paid for by the people of De Soto, I just felt like that was an expense we were bearing that was part of their wages," she said. "The way things are today, that's a pretty big benefit to them."

Cannon's reservations weren't shared by others on the council, who agreed the practice saved time in emergency situations.

Guilfoyle said the on-call policies in Kansas were different than those in New Jersey, where he was a township administer in two communities. Municipal employees there are unionized and get compensated when on-call, he said.

In addition to the quicker response time, the constrains on an employee's off-duty time when on-call needed to be factored into the benefit to the employee of taking a vehicle home, Guilfoyle said.

"I don't view it as a perk," he said. "They are subject to coming back here day or night when they get called."

- Leann Sulzen contributed to this article

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