The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans spent an excessive amount — nearly $400,000 — in fuel and repair costs for take-home vehicles in 2014, an audit from the city's Office of Inspector General (OIG) found. Costs were high because 45% of employees with take-home vehicles live outside of Orleans Parish.
Fuel cost for take-home vehicles in 2014 was $322,000 while maintenance costs were at least $72,000.
Some drivers of take-home vehicles live further than 40 miles away from the primary work site, contrary to policy. Most vehicle take-home forms were not approved or were not complete.
The agency was unable to provide an accurate count of how many times their employees responded to after-hours emergencies, even though that is the stated reason for take-home vehicles, the audit found. The board does not have a system in place to review vehicle usage. Each vehicle has a GPS unit, but the board does not use GPS to track the vehicles on a daily basis.
“The S&WB should be commended for reducing the number of take-home vehicles, re-writing the take-home vehicle use charge policy, and installing GPS tracking systems. However, the absence of oversight and significant supervision in addition to a lack of compliance with its own internal policies has exposed S&WB to potential fraud, waste, and abuse of its take-home vehicles,” the audit stated.
In 2015, S&WB reduced its take-home vehicles to 89 from 110, but the number of vehicles taken out of the parish increased to 48% of vehicles.
Also in 2015, the S&WB increased its per-day deduction of earnings from employees with take-home vehicles from $3 per day to $4.81 if residing within 20 miles of the parish boundary and $14.42 if residing further away. However, the board did not apply the new rate for months after the change.
The OIG initiated the investigation following complaints that S&WB vehicles were repeatedly driven out of the parish. Drivers were also seen and photographed using the vehicles for personal business, which is prohibited in the policy.