Many vehicle use recommendation forms were incomplete or unsigned.  Image via of OIG audit

Many vehicle use recommendation forms were incomplete or unsigned. Image via of OIG audit

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.