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Many county workers drive home in county vehicles

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By Jeff M. Hardison

BRONSON - Many Levy County workers enjoy a form of compensation, which cushions the impact of rising fuel prices. They drive county vehicles to and from home, and the gasoline or diesel is included.

Not all employees are willing to relocate here, County Coordinator Freddie Moody said. For the county to hire qualified staff, Moody said, an offer including transportation is part of the pay. Two County Commission workers received this incentive, Moody said. They are County Planner Shenley Neely and Nature Coast Transit Director Desiree Painter. Neely lives in Alachua County and Painter lives in Taylor County, he said.

There are 53 people who either drive or ride to and from home in county vehicles on the County Commission staff, according to Human Resources Manager Jacqueline Martin. Some live near to the courthouse in Bronson. Others live in Yankeetown, Inglis, Chiefland and other parts of Levy County, and in Alachua, Marion, Taylor or Gilchrist counties, Moody said.

Only four department heads do not use a vehicle to get between home and work. They are Veterans Service Office Director Michael Engel, ibrary Director Bonnie Tollefson, Levy County Visitors' Bureau Director Carol McQueen and County Attorney Anne Brown, Moody said.

Moody recently sent a memorandum to department heads asking them to consider if any of them or their workers could relinquish this benefit to reduce costs for county taxpayers.

Workers for the Levy County Board of County Commissioners are not the only group with this allowance. The Levy County Sheriff's Office has a higher number of employees going home in county vehicles, although their circumstances for using cars differs from most other county satff.

Sheriff Johnny M. Smith Jr. uses a county vehicle to go to and from home, as well as in his duties of preventing and fighting crime. A total of 76 LCSO vehicles go home, Lt. Evan Sullivan said. He was quick to note the nature of business by law enforcement requires cars.

Deputies are on call for Special Weapons And Tactics missions, dive team duties, and they can be called out instantly for any natural disaster or civil disorder, Sullivan said. If an off-duty officer sees a crime on his way to begin his or her shift or on his or her way home, Sullivan said, he or she could take action as well.

One constitution officer has no county vehicles in her department. Tax Collector Linda Fugate does not have any county vehicles.

One constitutional officer has access to a county vehicle for travel between home and work, but he chooses to walk to and from work instead.

Property Appraiser Francis Akins' would be allowed to use a 1997 Isuzu Rodeo to drive to and from home, he said. Akins lives right across the street from the Levy County Courthouse, however, so he sees no need to drive the vehicle except on official business.

Clerk of Court Danny Shipp has a county vehicle that he takes home, as well as uses for official business. Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell uses a county vehicle to take her to and from her home, as well as all over the county for election duties.

Superintendent of Schools Cliff Norris takes his vehicle home, School Board Finance Director Robert Clemmons said. The superintendent is on call 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, Clemmons added.

School Board Maintenance Director Ted Alexander said four vehicles go home with workers, because they are on call. Men in Chiefland, Bronson, Williston and Cedar Key on call to respond to maintenance needs from break-ins, ruptured water or sewer lines, and other maintenance duties after daytime business hours.

School Board Transportation Director Steve Tyson said 75 buses go home with their drivers because it is the most efficient method to meet the transportation needs for the district. Of those 75 bus routes, they all begin at the drivers' homes, he said. Four of the 79 total buses in the district are stored at schools, because drivers for those routes live too far off of them to park at their homes, Tyson said.

Employees who are allowed to use county vehicles for personal transport to and from home are given a value added to their tax return, Clemmons said. It is relatively small, about $3 per day. Moody said the same is true for County Commission workers who receive this benefit.

To put a perspective on the increasing value of having a vehicle to transport a person to work, without an increasing expense to the person from the cost of gasoline going up, one need only look at the U.S. Department of Energy's record of weekly retail gasoline prices.

On March 17, 2007, according to the Department of Energy (DOE), the cost of one gallon of regular grade gasoline on the East Coast was $2.57. On March 18, 2008, the same quality and quantity of gasoline sold in the same region of the United States for $3.28, according to the DOE.

The upsurge in gasoline prices over those 12 months is almost a 28 percent increase.