County cuts fleet of vehicles taken home by workers

While Managing Director Keith Regan maintained Tuesday that Maui County departments have fully complied with a vehicle-use policy that went into effect July 1, 2012, there is a fly in the ointment when it comes to the Department of Water Supply.

Regan gave members of the County Council’s Budget and Finance Committee an overview of the policy and the county’s compliance record. Before the policy went into effect, employees were taking home 165 county-owned vehicles, he said. Now, that number has dropped 52 percent to 80 vehicles being permitted to go home with employees.

“That’s a very impressive level of reduction,” said committee Chairman Mike White.

Currently, the Department of Water Supply has the most take-home vehicles with 52, a 15 percent reduction of nine vehicles from the 61 previously taken home. Countywide, the water department has 65 percent of the take-home vehicles.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Regan said the water department has attempted to implement the current vehicle-use policy, but some employees are challenging the loss of take-home vehicles based on a 1993 union arbitration decision.

In that decision, the former water director tried to change the department’s take-home vehicle policy, but the policy was challenged through a grievance, and the arbitrator eventually found that the county “was wrong in taking away the vehicles,” Regan said.

With a new countywide vehicle-use policy, the administration is working with the water department to “come up with a realistic way to address take-home vehicles,” he said.

Water employees often need to respond to water main breaks in the middle of the night, he said, and allowing those employees to take home county vehicles makes it possible for them to respond to such incidents in the field directly from home.

For other departments, their former and current number of take-home vehicles follow:

* Department of Environmental Management, an 86 percent drop from 42 to six vehicles.

* Department of Parks and Recreation, a drop of 81 percent from 36 to seven.

* Department of Public Works, a reduction of 53 percent from 17 to eight.

* Department of Liquor Control, unchanged at seven vehicles.

* Civil Defense Agency, a 100 percent reduction from two to zero.

Regan said figures on estimated cost savings were not available Tuesday.

Overall, there are 660 vehicles covered by the policy, and there are 724 approvals of employees to be “casual users” of vehicles during the workday, he said. The county has about 2,500 employees and “not everyone needs access to a vehicle,” he added.

County employees who use their private vehicles for county business can be reimbursed for mileage, he said. The county compensates employees mileage at an IRS-approved rate of 56.5 cents per mile.

The vehicle-use policy covers all departments, except the police and fire departments and the offices of the County Clerk and Council Services. (Those departments and agencies have their own policies.)

The total number of vehicles operated by the county is a fluid figure, Regan said, because the county has been “firming up numbers in physical audits.” Officials checking on vehicle inventories have found more vehicles in some departments, fewer in others, he said. In some cases, department inventory lists have old vehicles that are no longer being used but haven’t been disposed of yet. New vehicles will be purchased to replace them, he said.

The county vehicle-use policy took eight months to draft, Regan told council members. It was written with input from county departments and employee unions. Employees seeking take-home vehicles need to document why they’re required to take it home for county business.

Full implementation of the vehicle-use policy has taken some time.

In late March of 2013, council members learned that only one department – the Department of Environmental Management – was in full compliance with the policy at that time.

The Environmental Management Department had 97 road vehicles, such as sedans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. Of those, 42 were taken home by employees before the policy was fully implemented by the department on Aug. 1, 2012. After the policy went into effect, the department had only six take-home vehicles, a reduction of 36, for an annual savings of at least $133,000, or $3,700 per vehicle, council members were told nearly a year ago.

Department Director Kyle Ginoza said at the time that six department employees needed to take home county vehicles because they needed tools stored in the vehicles to respond to after-hours emergencies, such as sewage spills.

In another vehicle-use initiative, the county now has installed Global Positioning System devices on 504 vehicles, including 29 refuse collection trucks, Regan said.

County managers have three months worth of data on information such as how fast a vehicle is driven, when it’s idle, where it’s located, its gas mileage and whether the vehicle might be developing a mechanical problem, he said.

In cases in which county vehicles exceeded 60 mph, county managers were able to talk to employees about that, he said.

Later, when there’s six months or a year’s worth of data, “I think it will help us manage our costs,” Regan said.

Committee members deferred action on the matter.

The county’s vehicle-use policy and its GPS tracking program both stemmed from a 2010 Cost of Government Commission report.

It cited concerns about the high number of vehicles (then put at 1,268, or about one vehicle for every two county employees), excessive delegation of vehicle usage approval, inconsistencies among departments in vehicle assignments, poor inventory record-keeping and vague or nonexistent policies.

The report said the county could save $32.8 million over two years by improving its vehicle fleet management.

* Brian Perry can be reached at