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Governments weigh value of take-home cars

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Local government employees driving county- and city-owned cars can stop at a grocery store on the way home from work, but not one several blocks out of the way.

Franklin police officers get a vehicle to use when they patrol city streets for speeders and possible crimes; but at home, unless they are called to a crime scene, the vehicles should be parked.

City officials check whether that is happening by monitoring mileage and gas use.

As gas prices have risen in recent years, local governments have tightened policies on where and when employees can drive their work vehicles. In Indianapolis, city officials are discussing a surcharge for city employees, including firefighters and police officers, who have take-home vehicles. The surcharge would bring in an estimated $1.4 million according to the mayor’s budget.


In Johnson County, no local government has stopped allowing employees to take home their work vehicles. But they do have specific times and instances when officers and employees can use the cars in order to save gas money.

County sheriff’s deputies are

allowed to use them at part-time security jobs if they reimburse the county for gas, but few Franklin police officers pay for their off-duty gas, which they can do on a voluntary basis, Deputy Chief Chris Tennell said.

Greenwood police officers do not pay for off-duty gas, but in the past the department has gone as far as taking away their vehicles, spokesman Matt Fillenwarth said. In 2005, high fuel costs led the department to take away all vehicles that officers could bring home. They kept them off the streets for about a year.

Residents complained about the lower police presence, and the cars came back on the streets about a year later.

In Greenwood, Franklin and the county, a total of 186 employees have vehicles they can take home, and taxpayers pay more than $450,000 each year for fuel for those cars.

Their bosses track the mileage and trust the employees aren’t using the vehicles when they shouldn’t.

The five department managers for Franklin city government who have vehicles are allowed to drive only to and from work or work events.

The city keeps track of the mileage and the amount spent on gas through credit cards that match each car. Employees use the cards to pay for gas, and each card matches a car. The card reads the amount of gas put in the car and knows the mileage from that amount, Mayor Joe McGuinness said.

If an employee has been using more gas than usual, McGuinness will tell him or her. In the past, employees have had their vehicle use suspended.

The city does not have plans to charge its 48 police, fire and city employees with cars for the gas they use, but the idea might come up in budget negotiations, he said. The city had spent a total of $112,421 on fuel so far this year.

“It hasn’t been discussed yet, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility,” he said.

McGuinness spends about $50 a week on gas for his car.

Greenwood will not consider charging its 12 city employees or 58 police officers for gas, deputy mayor Terry McLaughlin said. The department managers and supervisors who have the vehicles are allowed to use them only for work, and the city relies on them to report their gas use honestly, he said.

Only employees with on-call duties, such as police officers and the information technology director, have permission to use the cars when they are not working, he said. They do not pay for their off-duty gas.

All Greenwood and Franklin police officers and Johnson County sheriff’s deputies have cars they can take home. The cars allow officers to get to crime scenes quickly, and their presence in the community also stops crimes from happening, Fillenwarth said.

“There’s a benefit to the city,” he said. “When someone sees them out it shows a police presence.”

All 61 Johnson County sheriff’s deputies have take-home cars. They are allowed to use them outside of work for part-time jobs, such as security, but they have to report that mileage and reimburse the department for that fuel, Maj. Jerry Pickett. said. Last year, deputies paid the department back a total of about $7,000, he said.

All gas costs are covered for all six of the Greenwood Fire Department officers and investigators with vehicles.

Officers can take the cars to get groceries and go to dinner within the county, but they have to be prepared to respond to an emergency, Fire Chief James Sipes said. Driving the marked vehicles makes them a representative of the department, and they are expected to help any residents they may find in danger or injured, he said. They cannot take the cars out of the county or use them to go drink or buy alcohol.

The department will watch to see if the surcharge is approved in Indianapolis, Sipes said. The department’s gas costs are currently manageable, but if they increase sharply in the future, the department will consider charging them for it, he said.

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