The Sewerage & Water Board has been lax with its policies on take-home vehicles, allowing employees who sometimes live far outside New Orleans and who are rarely called in for emergencies to keep their vehicles at home and doing little to ensure that the workers do not use them for personal driving, according to a new report from the New Orleans Inspector General’s Office.
Take-home vehicles cost the S&WB about $322,000 in fuel and $72,000 in repairs last year — costs that were inflated by the long commutes of some employees and may have been further exacerbated by the use of the vehicles for personal errands, according to the report.
The “absence of oversight and significant supervision, in addition to a lack of compliance with its own internal policies, has exposed S&WB to potential fraud, waste and abuse of its take-home vehicles,” the report said.
S&WB employees are supposed to be issued take-home vehicles so they can respond to after-hour emergencies. Only workers who need to “regularly” respond to four incidents in a month were supposed to be issued them, though that policy was rescinded in March, the report said.
But because the agency does not track how often the vehicles are used for that purpose, it was impossible to determine whether they were being given out appropriately, according to the report.
The report said several other policies — such as a requirement that the chairman of the agency’s Safety Committee sign off on each take-home vehicle — were frequently violated.
“The S&WB did not put controls in place to correct these violations,” according to the report. “Instead, for each of these violations, the S&WB simply eliminated the policy requirements.”
S&WB Executive Director Cedric Grant cut the number of workers with take-home vehicles from 110 to 89 this summer, the report said, noting that about 48 percent of the employees who have them live outside Orleans Parish. At least some of those employees live more than 40 miles from the city, in violation of a policy that existed until March.
S&WB officials said some of those who live outside that range were displaced by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago.
Employees with take-home vehicles have a daily fee deducted from their paychecks. That charge was $3 a day until it was raised in March. However, the new rates of $4.81 a day for employees who live in New Orleans and $14.42 for those who live more than 20 miles outside the city were not actually put in place until May.
The agency also does not use GPS devices on the vehicles to make sure they are not being used for personal reasons. The report said a complainant sent the Inspector General’s Office a picture of an S&WB vehicle being used to haul mattresses from a Rooms to Go store in Gretna.
The report did not include a response from S&WB management.
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