NEW ORLEANS - The number of City Hall employees allowed to take home city-owned vehicles has dropped by nearly a fifth since New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu took office in May and is expected to plummet by another 50 percent as his administration moves to implement a stricter policy on who can take advantage of the subsidized perk, according to The Times-Picayune.
Saying there's "no right-size number," Landrieu spokesman Ryan Berni said Friday that the administration anticipates it will revoke about 100 of the 185 take-home cars currently in service (excluding the police and fire departments) by the time its new rules kick in Aug. 2.
The reclaimed cars will be auctioned off or added to the pool of vehicles housed on city property and available to workers on city business, he said.
The cutback, which is part of an aggressive effort to close a $67 million budget gap by the end of 2010, is expected to produce "hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings from fuel and insurance," Berni said.
The reductions come after a jump in the number of take-home vehicles issued during the waning months of former Mayor Ray Nagin's tenure. By March 31, the total had risen to 224, up from 181 in September, quarterly records provided by the Landrieu administration show.
The figure now stands at 185 take-home cars, largely because the new administration hasn't issued cars to top mayoral appointees whose predecessors drove city-owned vehicles.
Employees retained from the Nagin administration have been allowed to keep their vehicles, though that may change when the new take-home car policy takes effect, officials have said.
Landrieu, meanwhile, has been assigned a city vehicle: a 2009 Ford Expedition. As mayor, Nagin had a less rugged, though perhaps more ritzy, 2008 Lincoln Town Car.
Under the new rules, city-owned vehicles will be assigned only to "full-time employees who need them to carry out essential city services" and "to respond to on-site city-related incidents on a 24-hour basis," according to a statement announcing the policy shift.
Employees with commutes longer than 40 miles will not be issued take-home cars, the announcement said, because "it is impractical for them to respond on a 24-hour basis in a timely manner."
As of March 31, eight workers fit that bill, including three investigators in the district attorney's office who drive 50 miles or more each way to work, records show.
Under the new policy, employees with take-home cars who live within 20 miles of where they work will continue to pay $100 a month through payroll deductions to cover a portion of the costs of upkeep, insurance and the fuel that employees typically obtain at stations owned and financed by the city.
Those who live 20 to 40 miles from work will see that fee jump to $300 per month, Berni said. Twenty-five workers fit that bill in March, records show.
The same deductions will apply to police officers who take their city cars home, Berni said.
The new policy also allows city maintenance contractors to use public vehicles, though it bars anyone else who is not an authorized city employee from driving them.
Commanding the bulk of take-home vehicles as of late May were three departments: Safety and Permits, with 49; the district's attorney's office, with 43; and the Office of Community Development, where most of the 31 vehicles are assigned to property code inspectors, records show.
Twelve employees of the Public Works Department are assigned take-home cars, while 10 cars are earmarked for the City Council.
Directors across City Hall have been asked to review which of their employees need a take-home car, keeping in mind the new standards, and to report back by month's end, Berni said.
As part of a sweeping effort to balance the 2010 budget, department heads also have been directed to recalibrate their budgets to align their year-end totals with what the City Council authorized in December. Through the end of May, records show 15 city departments were on track to overspend their 2010 budgets.
The Times-Picayune lists the following take-home vehicle tally based on department:
Safety and Permits: 49
District attorney: 43
Community Development (includes Code Enforcement): 31
Public Works: 12
City Council: 10
Property Management: 7
Emergency Medical Services: 5
Parks & Parkways: 4
Equipment Maintenance: 3
Emergency Preparedness: 2
Capital Projects, City Planning Commission, Civil Service, Finance, Historic District Landmarks Commission, Human Services, Public Libraries, Mayor's Office, Mosquito Control, NORD: 1 vehicle each.