TARGET 8: Residents pay for city workers' commutes beyond city
COLUMBIA - City employees are routinely allowed to take city cars home when they are on call. However, there are no restrictions in place for how far employees choose to live from Columbia.
After months of communication with the city, KOMU 8 News obtained records from the city outlining which employees are authorized to take cars home and what cities they live in. Former Public Communications Manager Renee Graham said there were no records on file tracking who was authorized to take cars home, so KOMU 8 News had to have these records made. The city also does not keep any form of tracking devices in cars, so it does not have any way to know exactly where the cars are going at any time.
Water and Light, in particular, had a number of employees who travel home for commutes outside of city limits, all on the dime of Columbia residents.
Below you can find a map showing some of the cities where employees travel home in city cars.
Water and Light Spokesperson Connie Kacprowicz said the department uses rate-payer dollars to pay for gas for the vehicles.
"Everything that a customer pays for goes to the cost of service. Gas is a cost of the service we provide," Kacprowicz said.
The city has its own fueling station where employees fill up on gas and diesel fuel. The city gets a slightly discounted rate. For instance, during a recent city purchase on January 16, the city of Columbia paid approximately $1.47 for a gallon of gas. The average gas price in Missouri was $1.77 on January 16, according to gasbuddy.com.
A typical commute for an employee from Blackwater at the current city gas rate, driving a car that gets the national average miles per gallon, would cost approximately $5 roundtrip. This rate only calculates the distance between the city limits of Columbia and Blackwater.
The estimated price of each trip was far higher in previous years, given that gas prices are the lowest they have been since 2009. During past years, a gallon of gas could cost upwards of three or four dollars.
Kacprowicz said it's necessary for employees to take cars home.
"Columbia Water and Light often has emergencies after hours where water or electric service is not happening for some of our residents. So, in order to quickly respond to those emergencies, get crews in faster, we allow them to drive city vehicles home."
When asked whether long commutes cut into the efficiency of response times, Kacprowicz said it might, but there is nothing the city can do to change it.
"We don't have any way of regulating where people choose to live," she said.
Kacprowicz pointed out that not every out-of-town employee takes a car home daily. She said the department needs the employees on call.
The city has talked about instituting a residency requirement for city employees in past years.
"We decided against it," Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine said. "Even though we do have a very well-educated workforce here in Columbia, I think it would be a mistake to limit our applicant pool just to Columbia citizens. Sometimes there are certain positions that can only be filled by somebody maybe outside of Columbia or even outside of the state of Missouri."