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Former Councilman, Others Question City Vehicle Take Home Costs

As with so much of our public discourse these days, the topic started on social media. Former City Councilor and State Representative Brian Coogan took to Facebook to ask the question "Should city workers take-home vehicles, especially when they live out of state on taxpayers dime?"

A "loaded question" some comments read, others asked for more specifics or stated "it depends on the position" citing some employees are always on-call. Many others were emphatic in answering no.

Mr. Coogan later alleged that the practice of taking city vehicles home costs the city $800,000. We decided to research further and see if we could corroborate that number as well as gather more information on who was taking a vehicle home and why.

Firstly, who is it that are taking home the vehicles. Records obtained from the city indicate that 21 police officers take home vehicles, this includes the Chief of Police, the Deputy Chief of Police, three captains, three lieutenants and 13 detectives. The three captains and the detectives are driving 2013 Fords (model unspecified) the rest are driving newer model years. A 2010 memorandum of understanding between the city and the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, the union representing East Providence officers allow for captains to take home vehicles for use within 30 minutes away from the city. Captains must keep their police radio on at all times and in exchange, are restricted from overtime. It is unclear if this applies also to the lieutenants and detectives also taking home police cruisers.

In the Fire Department, only has six vehicles taken home, these include the Fire Chief, Fire Marshal, Assistant Fire Marshal, the Director and Assistant Director of Training and Safety and the Fire Alarm Inspector. The newest vehicle is a 2015 Ford Explorer used by the Fire Chief, most other vehicles are 2012-2013 Ford Explorers, with the Fire Alarm inspector driving a 2006 Ford Crown Victoria.

The other department with take home vehicles is Public Works, with the Director of Public Works, Highway Superintendent, Public Buildings Superintendent, Building Official, Water Meter Supervisor, and two Water Utility Supervisors taking home unspecified vehicles. All of these positions are indicated as on-call. In addition four other employees responsible for storm response may take vehicles home in the winter months.

That leaves the question, what is the cost to this? Is the stated figure of $800,000 accurate? We crunched the numbers.

Cost/Mile   City Police Fire Total # Total Cost
Sedan 0.6266 0 0 1 1 $6,516.64
SUV 0.63 7 21 5 33 $216,216.00

The cost per mile is based on the 2017 AAA study of the cost of vehicle operation. For vehicles that were unspecified, we placed them into the more expensive SUV class. We estimated 20 miles each way, 40 miles round trip over 260 working days. That exceeds both the "30 minutes away" rule and the ordinance limitation of 10 miles outside of the state. We understand that maintenance costs for emergency vehicles are higher than an average passenger vehicle due to the stress placed on them, however they are not doing emergency miles during home use.

We came to a number of $220,732.64 per year, about one-fourth of the number cited online. This number also doesn't factor in the potential saved overtime from the 2010 memorandum with the police union, which applies at the very least to the three police captains.

It is likely many will still find this a significant number to contend with, and may question if as many vehicles are needed. However there is no indication that our officials are positioned to take this matter up, it may however, lead to some questions for the next budget.