OCEAN CITY, MD – City Council members will distinguish between a "perk" and an absolute necessity in reference to city employees' take-home vehicles, according to The Dispatch.

A $2.5 million trimming of the Ocean City budget over the past few months has led to a proposed reduction of the town's take-home vehicle fleet, according to City Manager Dennis Dare, who outlined a six-vehicle trim of the town's current 71-vehicle fleet. Public safety employees use 44 vehicles, and 21 cars are used by general employees.

The six vehicles Dare claims to have sliced weren't true cuts, according to Councilwoman Margaret Pillas, who noted that two of the vehicles are used by Beach Patrol Captain Butch Arbin and Lt. Ward Kovac during the summer season, but not in the winter, and the other four were purchased by the town's volunteer firefighters allegedly using a fund paid for by town money.

Dare said he hoped to eventually cut more of the town's vehicle fleet through attrition, explaining vehicles wouldn't be replaced if the person retired or when the vehicle's lifespan ended.

"During the process of reviewing this, we were hoping to drive down some of the operating costs," said Dare. "The question becomes who needs the take-home vehicles, and after many hours of pondering the numbers, it became apparent to me that it's only the critical responders who can respond in a critical amount of time."

In hopes to weed out those vehicles used by "non-critical responders," Dare proposed a 15-mile radius around Ocean City as the border in which employees of the town must live to be granted use of a take-home city vehicle. He noted 65 percent of the current employees who have take-home vehicles live within the 15-mile radius and a larger percentage live within 25 miles.

Three additional take-home vehicles are used by three police officers who live outside of the 15-mile perimeter, but their vehicles can't be taken away because they drive K-9 squad cars protected under union contract, according to Dare.

Notable names that would lose their vehicles if the rule was instituted include Ocean City Airport Manager George Goodrow, who lives 28 miles from Ocean City; Fire Marshal Sam Villani, who lives 17 miles away; Department of Transportation Director George Thornes, who lives 29 miles away; and Wastewater Superintendent Charlie Felin, who lives 24 miles away. In addition, six police officers live outside the 15-mile radius and could lose their car if the rule is implemented, including one captain, one lieutenant, one corporal, and three detectives.

With concerns to Pillas' claims that the six cars were not true cuts, Dare said those vehicles were essentially "asterisks" or interchangeable cars to the fleet, citing the two seasonal cars. He explained the four vehicles were bought by the volunteer firefighters with "donated money and not taxpayer money." He clarified that over the course of the past year, five cars were removed from the take-home vehicle fleet - all in the public works department - through "retirement or change of assignment."

Dare's presentation also detailed additional provisions set in place for town vehicles in Dare's presentation including rules that clearly stating town vehicles are used for town business only, banning employees from taking their kids to and from school in the vehicles, as well as not allowing passengers who aren't "authorized persons on city business."

Dare said the 15-mile radius rule would ensure a critical response time of a half-hour or less, but Council President Joe Mitrecic seemed to think that the perimeter was just the beginning.

"The 15-mile radius is just a good place to start, but we really need to determine what is totally necessary, and what is a perk," said Mitrecic. "What it's going to come down to is (council) has to make a decision, and there are going to be some unhappy people no matter what we decide."

Pillas suggested the more extreme idea of departmental "carpooling" and essentially having all town vehicles left in town at the end of the day.

"I want to right-size this," said Pillas. "Maybe it's just an illusion that taking these away would be a problem, because it worked with the trash pickup when we cut that back and no one thought that would work."

Pillas argued her point that many town vehicles were a perk, noting that 35 town vehicles are driven by employees who earn over $100,000 per year.

In the end, council members decided to reconvene at a later date to determine which parts of Dare's recommendation they agree with and potentially which items they will take further. Either way, Dare said that the employees would still get the job done.