By Agrippina Fadel
Tamarac commissioners will keep their $700 car allowance, with a possibility to opt in or out of the benefit, after considering and rejecting the option of a city fleet of cars.
The long-disputed topic of the car allowance, provided to commissioners without expense reports or receipts, has angered many residents, who questioned why the perk is needed in a 12-square mile city.
The commissioners discussed the car allowance in April and asked the staff to look at how the other cities in Broward County compensate their elected officials for travel.
Lorenzo Calhoun, Tamarac’s Director of Human Resources and Risk Management, said the city contacted over 30 municipalities and received a reply from 24.
Out of all the cities, 15 provide no vehicle benefit, six give commissioners an allowance from $200 to $800 a month, one city only allows the mayor to have the perk, and another one provides city vehicles during work hours.
The report also touched on the phone allowance and found that all but six municipalities provide commission members with either devices or a communication allowance.
City Manager Levent Sucuoglu said staff also looked at a fleet option and explored electric and gas-powered options. He said the city could lease a Ford Explorer XLT for $917 a month, Mustang Mach E (EV) for $1,199, or a Tesla 3 for $331 a month.
Discussing the potential fleet of city vehicles went on with a healthy dose of humor as commissioners raised questions about liability and insurance.
“If I’m going down the road, and God forbid, I hit Elvin [Villalobos]. Is the city now liable because I am driving a city vehicle?” Vice Mayor Marlon Bolton asked the City Attorney Hans Ottinot.
Ottinot responded that, like with any other city vehicle, [the accident] would be covered by city insurance, including damages.
Bolton said he is not for or against the fleet option, which seems comparable in cost to the current allowance, “but if we hit somebody, intentionally or unintentionally, [what if] we would have to pay a million dollars – and accidents do happen – the cost of the fleet and this option goes up.”
He asked how much the city would pay for insurance for five additional vehicles, and Sucuoglu responded that it is difficult to estimate the cost for a single car. Still, Tamarac is currently paying around $100k in insurance for all city vehicles, including fire trucks.
“It would not be an astronomical number [to add five more cars],” he said.
“But once [Bolton] has a few more car crashes or runs over people, the city’s insurance might be a lot higher,” joked Mayor Michelle Gomez, to which Bolton responded, “I am a very safe driver!”
Bolton also asked the staff if the cars would be marked as commission or city vehicles and got an answer that it’s up to the commission. “Talk about privacy – everybody sees that car and knows the commissioner is at the Trapeze or the Faith Center,” he quipped.
“I’m Jamaican, so I have five jobs. I go to the church. I go to the county; I come to the city. I go to my businesses. I go to school. I fly my drone. If I’m not on city business, can I drive that car?” Bolton asked. Ottinot responded that generally, for upper management and elected officials, personal use of a city car is permitted, with some restrictions.
Commissioner Elvin Villalobos, who opted out of the car allowance in April, said options are good but expressed concern that leased vehicles may not have enough mileage for all city needs. “I drove 300 miles for the district business last month,” he said.
“I don’t think residents want us to remove the travel benefit completely. They know we are working for the city and driving around,” said Villalobos, who in the past advocated for tracking miles and getting reimbursed for driving instead of getting a flat rate allowance.
Commissioner Morey Wright said he campaigned on getting rid of the car allowance altogether and wants to be true to his word, so he suggested going away with the perk.
Bolton said he has been using the $700 to help people in need, which residents called a “gross misuse” of city funds.
“If we keep the car allowance, I will continue to do that. If we get rid of it, I will lose the ability to help the residents. If we decide to opt in or out, I will help the residents I already promised the help and then opt out,” he promised.
Sucuoglu said the city provided the cost and prognosis for the city fleet as an alternative to the allowance, but as a matter of business practice, the staff prefers the allowance because it “relieves the city of all kinds of liability.”
At the end of the discussion, with the lack of consensus on any major changes to the travel benefit and the fleet option not having a lot of support due to costs and liability, the commission decided to leave the perk as is.
- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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