HATTIESBURG, MS – Although most city business shuts down at 5 p.m., it’s not uncommon to see a City-owned automobile out on the streets after-hours that, according to Ward 4 Councilman Dave Ware. On one occasion, he saw a City car driving along Hardy Street on a day when there were no public meetings scheduled. Neither were there any emergencies Ware knew of, according to http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com.

On a separate occasion, the councilman said he received a call from a constituent who saw a City-owned vehicle at a Wal-Mart; the family got out of the car to shop. Mayor Johnny DuPree subsequently investigated that incident and that person can no longer take City vehicles home, he said. It is incidents like these, Ware says, that led him to start asking what, exactly, was the policy regarding the use of City-owned vehicles.

That policy, he found, written in 1994, bans the use of the vehicles for personal reasons and prohibits anyone not on city business from riding in the vehicle. It is a policy that he said is being violated frequently. But DuPree said the policy no longer fits the growing city of Hattiesburg and its needs.

The City’s fleet consists of 297 vehicles, of which 117 are police cruisers. The vehicles range in age from mid-1980s pickup trucks to new 2008 pickups that were bought in early June. The numbers are comparable to other similar-sized Mississippi cities, including Meridian, which reports having 281vehicles and Greenville, which has about 250.

To maintain Hattiesburg’s fleet, the 2006-2007 budget included $1 million for gasoline and diesel, which supplies the total inventory of about 1,100 gasoline-powered machines — from lawn mowers and leaf blowers to dump trucks and heavy equipment. The budget also included $880,000 for motor vehicle parts and repairs and $530,000 to staff and operates the city repair shop, according to www.hattiesburgamerican.com.

According to the City’s policy, only department directors and one designated person in any division who may be responsible for responding to an emergency during non-business hours should be allowed to take vehicles home at night.

Ward 5 Councilman Henry Naylor said a discussion of the overall policy is warranted.