HAGERSTOWN, MD – As gas prices continue to climb, prompting some to question the value of giving take-home vehicles to government employees, Washington County officials defended the practice, saying it is not the money-waster that some people think it is, according to the Hagerstown Morning Herald.

In the past six months, elected officials in Howard and Allegany counties in Maryland have ordered reviews of policies that allow government employees to have a paid car, truck, SUV.

Recently, Hagerstown City Councilwoman Kelly Cromer said the city should limit the number of take-home vehicles it provides to its employees. The council will discuss the cost of the city’s program during Tuesday’s work session.

The Washington County Commissioners, however, said they do not think the county’s policy needs to be changed.

Documents provided to The Herald-Mail show that 126 Washington County employees are assigned take-home vehicles. Of those, 79 are members of the Washington County Sheriff’s Department. Some employees of the Highway, Permits and Inspections, Water Quality and Engineering departments also have take-home vehicles, as do several department heads. Of the 47 nonpolice take-home vehicles, 26 are pickup trucks, 14 are SUVs, four are vans, and three are cars. Eleven Highway Department employees, including Plank, have county-issued, full-size 4X4 pickup trucks.

According to a written policy governing the use of vehicles and equipment, the county offers take-home vehicles to some employees “for the benefit of the county so that an employee can perform his or her job more efficiently.” The policy prohibits county employees from using the vehicles for personal use “except for commuting and circumstances approved by the employee’s department head.”

In fiscal 2007, the most recent year for which complete data is available, those deductions totaled $24,369, Debra S. Murray wrote in an e-mail.

When Cromer argued that the City of Hagerstown should take a closer look at its take-home vehicle program, she said city vehicles should not be given to employees who live outside the city. County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, however, said that kind of limitation doesn’t make sense in the county or city. Aleshire said depending on where employees live, they could be out of the governmental boundaries, but still have a shorter drive to work or a fueling station.

While County Commissioners Aleshire and William Wivell said it would not hurt to review the county’s take-home vehicle policy, the commissioners said they do not think changes are necessary. Because take-home vehicles largely are limited to emergency responders and on-call employees, further restrictions could jeopardize public safety, Wivell said, according to the Hagerstown Morning Herald.

Hagerstown’s mayor and City Council say they are willing to consider a proposal to limit the number of city-owned vehicles that municipal employees are allowed to drive home after work.