Vehicle ordinance looms

An ordinance aimed at reining in costs and eliminating the practice of giving city-owned vehicles to officials as some sort of twisted governmental privilege could receive attention in City Council as early as Tuesday.

Trenton really needs one of these, and nothing made that more evident than when Business Administrator Jane Feigenbaum said recently that the city had no single vehicle policy and that policies dictating the use of city-owned, taxpayer-funded cars was up to the individual directors of the city’s 10 municipal departments.

And sometimes it appears that these policies aren’t getting the job done.

Pointing to this conclusion are the occasional car crashes involving city vehicles far outside of city limits, the stories about civilian employees like former Police Director Joseph Santiago sending in municipal cars to get tricked out with unnecessary bells and whistles, and rumors about the lending of cars to employees attending sporting events in Philadelphia.

Even without this perception of abuse there is the mere fact that the gasoline going into the gas tanks of these vehicles, free of charge to the drivers, remains at a cost of around $3.25 a gallon, at a time when the city’s finances are in tatters.

The municipal fleet, quite simply, represents a sucking wound that consumes hundreds of thousads, if not millions of city dollars at a time when Trenton talks of 10 percent budget cuts, layoffs, and the closure of public library branches.

Part of the ordinance that could end this would require Ms. Feigenbaum to go out and put together an inventory of Trenton’s municipal fleet, complete with documentation justifying why certain employees need expensive, gasoline-consuming vehicles to do their jobs.

That part should be really interesting.

City Council and the residents its members represent will finally get a look at what the Douglas H. Palmer administration has been doing as far as assigning and using vehicles.

Also, people living in this city of 83,000 residents will be able to compare the size of its municipal fleet to other cities. Judging by Mayor Palmer’s usual taxpayer-funded extravagances – a police officer protection squad, frequent trips around the nation and the world, and $500,000 light-up fire department signs – it probably won’t be pretty.

But for comparison’s sake, in absence of any hard numbers on Trenton’s fleet, it seems that Yonkers, N.Y. has 144 take-home cars for civilian employees, in a city with 196,000 residents and more than twice the land area of Trenton.

Buffalo, N.Y. recently slashed its municipal fleet due to economic pressures and fuel costs and now has 50 total take-home vehicles for civilian employees in a government serving a city nearly four times as large as Trenton, with 292,000 residents.

Another part of the ordinance would require the city to implement some sort of Internal Revenue Service-compatible accounting system, so employees would actually have to pony up a buck or two for having a free commute to work. Apparently Trenton hasn’t been doing this, despite the obvious negative implications of such a practice.

Anyway, here’s to Tuesday, and to City Council moving forward with this ordinance and making the Palmer administration go the way of the City of Buffalo.


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