Pelham-owned vehicles staying in city limits

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

All of Pelham’s city-provided employee vehicles will be staying inside Pelham city limits unless the trip outside the city is specifically approved by a city official or department head.

The announcement came during a May 16 City Council meeting, during which the council voted 3-2 to approve the new city employee vehicle policy. Council members Teresa Nichols, Bill Meadows and Council President Mike Dickens voted in favor of the resolution, and council members Steve Powell and Karyl Rice voted against.

The vote came one week after Dickens said he believed Pelham employees are using city vehicles “excessively,” and called for the city to re-examine its vehicle policy as a way of reducing operating expenses.

Dickens also said the city needs to update its vehicle usage-reporting system to bring the city in line with Internal Revenue Service guidelines.

Pelham currently employs about 300 people and has a vehicle inventory of 164 vehicles.

During the May 16 pre-meeting work session, Meadows said requiring city vehicles to stay inside city limits is in line with other cities in the state, and could cut down on the city’s gasoline expenses.

“I can’t find another city that assigns vehicles to employees that are allowed to drive them to and from home,” Meadows said. “We have talked about the expenditures of gas going up tremendously. The people of this city don’t understand why we furnish cars to people to commute.”

Through the new policy, city employees who live in Pelham’s city limits will still be allowed to take their vehicles home, and all employees with city vehicles will be allowed to travel to and from lunch in the city limits.

But Powell said the new policy will be detrimental to some employees, such as those who are on call during non-business hours.

“I oppose this. For example, instead of an on-call detective coming right in if he is summoned, he will have to drive from his home to the police station and then to the scene,” Powell said. “I think it could result in an increased cost to the city.”

Murphy said some state and federal agencies require the city to respond quickly to emergencies.

“We’ve got some people that live outside the city limits. If they are on call, they need to come in quickly,” Murphy said. “If a well or sewer goes out, we’ve got to have someone there in 30 minutes. (The Alabama Department of Environmental Management) requires that.”

In other business, the council also voted down a proposed city hiring freeze. Dickens, Powell and Rice voted against the freeze and Nichols and Meadows voted in favor.

The vote came after council members shared split views on the matter during the pre-meeting work session.

Powell said enacting an immediate hiring freeze would affect the city’s service delivery, and said the city has already agreed to fund a certain number of employee positions for this fiscal year.

Murphy said passing a hiring freeze would “send a message that Pelham is in financial trouble, and that is not true.”

Nichols and Meadows said enacting a hiring freeze would help secure the employment and retirement funds for current employees.

“I made this (resolution) because I want to see the employees we have here today walk out with the retirement they think they are going to get,” Meadows said.