According to a Prince George's County audit, the county Health Department has spent more than $100,000 in the last year to pay gasoline and maintenance cost for county takehome cars that employes have driven to and from their homes.
Of 178 cars used last year by Health Department personnel, 75 had accumulated more commuting mileage than business mileage, prompting County Council members to direct the county health officer, Dr. Donald Wallace, to issue a new policy on takehome cars.
Council members said they were concerned about possible poor management and abuse of the take-home cars after they learned that nearly half the total miles registered on Health Department cars represented commuter mileage.
The audit also pointed out that only 14 percent of the Health Department fleet has clocked enough mileage to be eligible for state maintenance funds. Under state policy, each car used by an employe must register 10,000 miles a year before it is eligible for those funds.
Paul Reinhard, who manages the take-home car system for the Health Department, said that under department policies established in April 1975, "We would not take cars from people who had them even though they may not be using them the number of miles necessary. There are some people, physical therapists, for example, who carry equipment around with them and would wreck the interior of their cars. We can't ask them to do that."
In a draft letter to Wallace, the County Council called the abuses of the car policy "excessive and beyond anything that can be considered reasonable in scope." It has been County Council policy in recent years to attempt to reduce the use of take-home cars in most county agencies, and the number of take-home vehicles used by the county, the Board of Education and bi-county agencies has been "drastically reduced over the past two years," according to the letter.
The county also strictly prohibits the use of take-home cars by employes who do not live in the county. Of 168 cars currently used by the Health Department, 68 are driven by employes who live in the District, Virginia and Montgomery, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.
Wallace said the audit was "uncomplete ad deceptive" and called the policy restricting take-home cars to county residents "discriminatory."
"We recruit our employes statewide," Wallace said. "How can one decide that one who lives outside the county should not have a car."
Wallace said it was his policy not to take cars from employes who already had been assigned them. "Employes could refuse to work in the field unless they change their cars. Look at all the work time lost just looking for a pool car. How can you compare $280 in commuter mileage charges to $6 or $7 an hour lost work time? No money would be saved."
The council has ordered the health officer to respond by Sept. 27 to the car problems and other issues raised in the audit. Wallace and Reinhard said they plan to present an alternate proposal to the current car policy then.