County board reduces car allowance for department heads

Steve Wittry in this file photo gives a tour of the wastewater treatment plant to a group of local business leaders.

San Benito County supervisors reduced the car allowance for appointed department heads from $500 to $350 at last week’s board of supervisors’ meeting, while there were concerns from one department head that there should be some exemptions to the allowance.

The lowered allowance was expected to save the county $18,000 annually.

Steve Wittry, the public works director, said he had started to track the monthly miles he drives while on the job at the direction of the ad-hoc budget committee when they were first considering changing the car allowances. He discovered that he was clocking 1,200 to 1,400 miles a month, mostly in his personal vehicle.

“I would ask that my allowance be zero and I be compensated at the other rate if using my own car,” Wittry said, of wanting to be reimbursed per mile.

The federal mileage reimbursement is 55 cents a mile. At that rate, Wittry’s reimbursement would be $660 to $770 a month.

Supervisors’ originally voted in the car allowance in 2008, when it was decided that department heads could receive a monthly allowance if they waived the right to mileage reimbursement.

In deciding to lower the allowance to $350, the ad-hoc budget committee looked at the average miles driven by appointed department heads in personal vehicles and found that $350 covered the amount of miles driven by most department heads. At the reimbursement rate, $350 would cover someone who drove 192.5 miles a month.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he understood Wittry’s point of view.

“Other areas could use a pool vehicle, but I see where there should be some exception or we should issue a vehicle,” Botelho said.

Wittry said that he uses a county vehicle when possible, but that there are only three county vehicles available to his staff members. He said he uses county cars especially when he is traveling in South San Benito County so that the county emblem will identify him as being on county business. But he said sometimes it makes more sense to leave from his home in a personal vehicle when he starts the day at a road construction site or meeting. He said he travels to the multiple roadwork sites and other infrastructure projects that are happening around the county.

“I didn’t pay much attention to it until the direction came (to track the mileage,)” he said. “To be honest, $500 doesn’t cover it. I was brought on to be able to be an active director and I’d like (the reimbursement) to be based on the standard rate.”

Botelho suggested approving the car allowance for appointed department heads at $350 and then looking at the mileage tracked by department heads for the next year – then reevaluating the issue.

Supervisor Robert Rivas said the ad-hoc committee hadn’t considered the possibility that some department heads might far exceed the average mileage.

“It makes sense that there should be an exception for certain employees who are on the road a lot,” Rivas said.

Supervisor Margie Barrios asked the board members to approve the resolution as it was written, but review it in 90 days to allow for an exemption for department heads whose mileage far exceeds the average. She said the supervisors could make it retroactive at that time.

The supervisors approved the new car allowance rate, with direction to review it in 90 days.

Elected department heads had already voluntarily waived their entire car allowance for an annual savings of $24,000.

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