MOULTRIE, GA — Colquitt County commissioners recently defended employees who drive county vehicles home, saying that the employees are on call or need them to travel to out-of-office work sites, according to the Moultrie Observer.

A comment to the Observer’s Rants & Raves section in the Wednesday edition criticized county Extension agents and the E-911 director taking county vehicles home.

Commissioner Ray Saunders, who is a farmer, said that extension agents’ use of vehicles can be justified.

“We’ve got one of the best county agent systems in the state,” he said. “We’ve got people in the field in the summer time out until eight or nine at night. It’s a service we need to work with.”

E-911 Director Theresa Warburg also has to go the emergency center in the event of a weather-related or other situation, Saunders said.

“We’ve got some people that are on call that I feel need to be in a vehicle,” he said. “If you look at the economics, a person that’s on call, if he has to drive in to get his truck ... we won’t be saving any money. I think it saves us money. It’s common sense that we need to use.”

"The Extension service is a good steward of taxpayers’ money," Saunders said.

The county budgeted $202,870 to the extension service agents in 2007-2008, including $25,000 for vehicles and $8,000 for fuel and motor oil, and $500 for tires. The 2008-2009 budget totals $198,072. Fuel was increased by $12,000 for this year, with all departments seeing an increase in that category due to the high cost of fuel in the summer when commissioners put the budget together.

“The extension agent is very, very frugal about the way he uses his budget,” Saunders said. “If he asks for a vehicle you can bet it’s slap worn out. And yes, he does have to use it after hours.”

The county’s policy for use of its vehicle gives the county administrator the authority to grant permission to department heads, supervisors and other personnel who need to drive vehicles home after work hours “because of the nature of their position, duties or the emergency nature of work.”

“Vehicles so assigned may not be used for other than official purposes,” the policy said.

The policy prohibits employees from allowing non-county employees to ride in county vehicles, with the exception of department heads. Misuse or abuse of county vehicles, allowing riders who are not county employees, or using vehicles for non-approved purposes can result in disciplinary action up to termination, according to the policy.