Baltimore Councilman William H. Cole IV introduced a bill Monday to limit a program that allows some city employees to take government cars home every day.
Cole's bill, which is co-sponsored by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young, would bar any city agency from granting a take-home car to anyone who uses it to travel more than 25 miles beyond the city limits, except on official city business.
"It's just waste," Cole said of the program. "Some of these cars are traveling hundreds and hundreds of miles a week. We're paying for that travel. We're paying for that gas. We're paying for that maintenance. That's asking a lot of the taxpayers."
Cole said he expected to have widespread support on the council. Ryan O'Doherty, spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, said the administration "looks forward" to working with Cole.
"The Mayor's goal is to reduce take-home vehicles while modernizing the city's fleet to reduce costs," O'Doherty said in an email. He added that Rawlings-Blake, upon taking office, reduced the use of take-home cars, including those previously used by deputy mayors.
Cole said the city likely has more than 200 take-home cars, including more than 100 in the Police Department and 40 in the Fire Department. He said he settled on the distance of 25 miles because it seemed "reasonable."
"I don't begrudge anybody for choosing where to live," he said. "But we don't have to subsidize their travel."
Take-home cars have been an issue of contention for years in city government. Officials said the practice began as a way of helping police officers and other emergency responders who may have to respond to the site of crises from their homes. Critics say the cars have become an expensive perk the city cannot afford.
In 2000, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley asked city agencies to cut back on the practice. The Police Department reduced the number of take-home cars from 133 to 72, and Department of Public Works from 61 to 29.
In 2009, The Baltimore Sun reported that take-home cars in the Police Department cost taxpayers an estimated $262,138 a year. Only 18 of 148 Police Department employees granted take-home cars lived in Baltimore, The Sun found.
"We have one car that's being driven 160 miles round-trip every day," Cole said Monday. "It's just absurd."
According to data on the city's Open Baltimore site, nearly 40 percent of city workers live elsewhere, including 5 percent who live out-of-state. Those numbers are higher for police officers. More than 70 percent live outside the city limits, and about one in 10 Police Department employees live out of state.
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