As gas prices rise and politics heat up, the number of take-home vehicles provided by the county has been criticized.
The total money spent in February in fuel for take-home vehicles was more than $140,000, according to numbers released by the county. Take-home vehicles include deputy vehicles, sewer and water vehicles, utility vehicles and more. See vehicles eligible for take-home in the document attached to this story.
But while gas prices continue to rise, the county has been addressing costs and efficiency for 15 months, according to Council Chair Larry Hargett. And the results have been positive, he said.
"We're evaluating everything," Hargett said. "For the last 15 months, the volume of our usage of fuel has been dropping, but the cost per gallon has been rising, so our cost is going up but our volume usage is dropping."
He said policy changes have asked each department head to monitor efficiency.
"We don't think it's a problem (right now)," Hargett said. He added that the recent inquiries into take-home vehicle policies and gas consumption has been mostly coming from one man, who is running for County Council District 6: Roger Goodman.
Goodman has alleged mismanagement of take-home vehicles and escalating costs a focal point of his campaign.
"I don't think council is keeping track of our funds," Goodman said.
Council refutes that claim.
"We're always monitoring and looking at it. We can do better and we want to do better to save taxpayers' money," Hargett said. "It's not like we have a loose policy out there."
While council may not think it's a current problem, the members still heard from the department that spends the most on fuel for take-home vehicles: the sheriff's office.
Dorchester County Council heard from Sheriff L.C. Knight on the number of take-home vehicles and their costs during its April 2 meeting.
The sheriff's office has a majority of the take-home vehicles. According to Knight, it's so deputies and other workers can respond quickly to emergencies.
Knight said the take-home vehicle policy pre-dates his administration to 1995.
There are restrictions on take-home vehicles, according to Knight. With only a few exceptions, the vehicles must not be taken more than 20 miles from the county line, he said.
Some deputies use the vehicles for off-duty jobs, such as crossing guards.
And the system may not be cost effective, but it works, Knight told council.
"Yes, it costs a little more but I think the benefits outweighs the cost," Knight said. He added that cars under one driver also last longer and are better kept. He called having two or three deputies sharing a vehicle "a logistical nightmare."