The obvious expenditures that accompany owning a vehicle include the cost of the vehicle's registration, insurance, maintenance, and fuel.
The first two, vehicle registration and insurance are a must for any vehicle operated on roadways in New Jersey. The third, maintenance, is a given depending on how often the vehicles are used and how well they are serviced. The last expenditure associated with owning and operating a motor vehicle is fuel. This expenditure is where the Town of Westfield can save money that is currently being pumped from the taxpayers pocket without any checks and balances in place. There is a need to be able to effectively monitor the fuel consumption of each town owned vehicle.
We don't want our readers to confuse the two types of town owned vehicles we are referring to. For the sake of this story we will separate the two into "take home" town owned vehicles and "work" town owned vehicles.
"Work" vehicles include fire trucks, police patrol, parking, and detective vehicles, as well as DPW trucks, street sweepers, backhoes, and other heavy equipment. These vehicles are filled up to serve a purpose whether it be to answer a fire call, patrol the streets of Westfield, of maintain our roads, parks, and other daily duties of each department. Whether it be gasoline or diesel fuel, the justification to fill these vehicle's tanks with fuel purchased and provided by the taxpayer is apparent.
"Take home" town owned vehicles include vehicles driven by the various department heads and others. They include the fire chief, deputy fire chiefs, police chief, both police captains, employees of the department of public works, health department, town administrator and engineering department. It is these vehicles where a solution to "wastefuel" spending is needed.
There have been employees of the department of public works that have been fired or have been forced to resign due to the theft of fuel from town own gas pumps located at the DPW building at 959 North Ave. The filling up of personal tanks with town owned fuel was the cause for those firings, unless of course you operate a "take home" town owned vehicle. The fact of the matter is, the operation of a "take home" town owned vehicle for personal use, with a tank of gas paid for by the taxpayer, is "wastefuel" spending. Is it condoned or authorized theft?
Town owned "take home" vehicles have been parked outside of supermarkets, restaurants, and bars. They have been driven to family events, friends houses, and shopping malls. They are driven throughout this state and even out of state, for personal or private reasons.
This is where The Fact of The Matter believes a solution has to be implemented to stop the "wastefuel" spending.
Every employee with a "take home" town owned vehicle should be required to carry a credit card type I.D. card that should be swiped though a credit card type machine connected to the town gas pumps prior to filling up. This would allow the town to monitor the fuel consumption of each person with a "take home" town owned vehicle. Any excessive fuel consumption by an employee should be questioned.
In the case of police personnel, the excuse given in the past by a town employee justifying the need of a "take home" vehicle was to be able to respond to a police emergency from where ever they might be. First of all, there is no need to respond to a police emergency if the person has been consuming alcohol in a local bar after a softball game or other off-duty activity. The fact of the matter is, the "take home" town owned vehicle has no business being driven to a softball game and to local "watering holes". Think of the liability. It belongs parked at police headquarters.
In the past 20 years can anyone name at least five to ten instances when an emergency existed that a police captain with a "take home" town owned vehicle responded from their home, or elsewhere while off-duty, to assist in an emergency that could not have been supervised by the commanding officer on the scene? If the need to respond to the scene is imperative, either Captain could pick up their town owned vehicle at police headquarters and respond to the scene if called in while off-duty. The same holds true for fire personnel, DPW personnel, and Engineering employees. We can't argue with the Fire and Police Chief's need for a take home vehicle as they are quite possibly a "perk" listed in their contract with the town.
The only argument we have with the fueling of these vehicles is that if the police chief is going to fill up his Dodge Durango to fuel his trip to his vacation home in Vermont, he should pay for the fuel himself. Likewise, when travelling to Massachusetts to visit a friend, how about he opens up his own wallet and not the taxpayer's wallet to fuel the trip
Free gas pumped into "take home" town owned vehicles for personal use is not a "perk", its theft. The employee is not being taxed on fuel consumption and the free fuel can be considered income.
As gas prices are predicted to reach $5.00 a gallon by the end of 2012, the time to cut back on the "wastefuel" spending is now.