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RICHARDSON - At a time when budget woes are causing many cities to sacrifice services and layoff employees, the city of Richardson is being questioned about its car allowance policy that costs taxpayers more than $850,000 a year.
The program also includes a sweet perk for Richardson's city manager.
Richardson's library director gets $482 a month to use a car for city business. A producer for the city gets $313 a month. They are among 141 employees the city pays $850,000 a year to get around town.
"It's a serious expense, but at the same time it involves a significant number of our people who we feel do a better job and are more efficient in their work as a result of managing their our car business," said Bill Keffler, Richardson's city manager.
Keffler is in a class of his own when it comes to the program. Richardson gives him a package worth $20,000 a year, which pays the lease on a SUV and pays for its fuel, maintenance and insure for his entire family on the vehicle.
"The council has been generous with me to have this ability to have a leased car," he said.
It's a perk that has been called into question at recent budget meetings. Residents have voiced concerns over why salaries and raises have been frozen and cut as perks for a man making $240,000 a year have not.
"How is it the public got into the position of buying personal vehicles for public employees?" said Nathan Morgan, a Richardson City Hall watchdog.
Richardson taxpayers have also been paying for Keffler and others to use a city-owned fleet vehicle for whatever they want.
"I use a pool vehicle on a number of times over the course of the provision of the benefit," Keffler said.
The city manager said he has checked out the car while his family used the leased car.
"There is no question about their double dipping," Morgan said.
Due to backlash, the fleet car is no longer being used.
"I appreciate that point is fair and we've eliminated the car," Keffler said.
Arlington spends $120,000 a year on car allowances for 24 employees. Fort Worth, which is seven times larger than Richardson, spends $643,000 on 154 employees. Dallas' city manager doesn't get any money at all for a car. In total, city employees get just over $58,000 a year in car allowances.
"We've chosen to provide that for a larger number of employees than other cities do, but we think there's a cost benefit to that," Keffler said.
Keffler said there are no plans on changing the policy or giving back any portion of $20,000 perk.