FORT WAYNE, IN - Together, Fort Wayne and Allen County have cut nearly 100 take-home cars and trucks from their fleets since 2003, leaving more employees to drive their own vehicles to and from work, according to Fort Wayne's Journal Gazette.
Most Fort Wayne departments have eliminated take-home vehicles altogether for nearly $400,000 in savings. About a third of the county departments have purged them, but no cost analysis has been done.
Although most county departments dropped some take-home vehicles, the lion's share came from the health department, which eliminated all it had.
In Fort Wayne, City Utilities eliminated the most, according to figures provided by offices for the mayor and county commissioners.
"I think it's definitely good progress, absolutely," Allen County Council President Paul Moss said. "I'm glad we're moving in the right direction. But is there room for improvement? Yes, there's probably room."
For the city, nearly all take-home vehicles are now for emergency call-outs only, a change started under former Mayor Graham Richard.
"There's been a major shift," said Rachel Blakeman, city spokeswoman. "We did evaluate the need, and there's been a significant reduction."
Changes to the Fort Wayne and Allen County take-home vehicle policies came after a 2003 Journal Gazette review found that neither had a formal system to monitor vehicle use or a way to determine whether driving a government-owned vehicle is more economical for taxpayers than paying mileage for use of personal vehicles.
Not counting the police, fire, and sheriff's departments - all of which have take-home privileges for some people - 74 county employees and 21 city employees currently are allowed to take government-owned vehicles home.
That's a cut of 51 vehicles for the county and 43 for the city since 2003.
In Fort Wayne, 11 departments that had take-home vehicles in 2003 no longer do. Of the four departments that still have them, Animal Care & Control has 12 take-home vehicles. That includes 10 vans with cage inserts, air systems, animal handling equipment and communications radios. The vans are considered public safety emergency vehicles much like police and fire vehicles, Blakeman said.
Among the city's 21 take-home vehicles, one is used by a part-time water maintenance employee when on duty. Another is Mayor Tom Henry's 2008 Chevrolet Malibu, for which he pays half the lease.
In the county, six departments no longer have take-home vehicles. The building and highway departments have the most, a mix of 47 Ford and Chevrolet pickup trucks and passenger cars.
A third of the highway department's 80 employees have take-home vehicles. Most are engineers and inspectors who carry testing equipment and drive from home to project sites, Green said. Others are on-call foremen and supervisors as well as administrators who travel to job sites and meetings, said Mike Green, county spokesman.
Both Moss and County Commissioner Linda Bloom said the take-home vehicles used by the building and highway departments are most likely needed.
"That doesn't mean we shouldn't continue to scrutinize them," Moss said.
One of the highway department's vehicles is assigned to Bloom. County officials elected before 2007, including Bloom, were allowed to keep their vehicles when the commissioners voted to revise the policy last year, with Bloom abstaining. The two other commissioners drive their own vehicles.
Bloom defends the car as part of the commissioner package when she first was elected in 1994.
It came with the job at the time," said Bloom, who commutes 15 miles a day and estimates she travels 1,000 miles a month on the job.
Moss said as the county continues to look at budget cutting it will scrutinize all take-home vehicles, especially those assigned to top managers and elected officials.
The Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health eliminated all take-home vehicles in 2005, making most of them pool vehicles for use by various employees and removing others altogether. It had 22 take-home vehicles in 2003. Administrator Mindy Waldron said no study has been done on potential savings.
Currently, the department has 16 vehicles used by 22 people, making health inspection scheduling difficult. Although she would like more pool vehicles, no one protested the move away from take-home vehicles, Waldron said.