WRAL Investigates

NC agencies spinning wheels on cost of state-owned cars

Posted December 13, 2010
Updated December 14, 2010

WRAL Investigates
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— North Carolina is facing an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion budget shortfall. Potential cuts to services, even layoffs, have been described as painful. Yet, one year after a WRAL investigation and a call for change from the governor, agencies have yet to figure out how to manage the costs of state-owned cars.

Agencies lease the cars to log millions of miles a year, but taxpayers also pay when the vehicles are parked. A 2009 WRAL investigation found the Department of Correction paid, even though one vehicle sat idle for five straight months.

“As long as bills were being paid, I don't think a whole lot of people paid a whole lot of attention to it,” said Speros Fleggas, deputy secretary of the Department of Administration, which oversees the motor fleet.

A year later, departments are still paying millions of dollars for unused miles.

Agencies lease vehicles from the state department of Motor Fleet Management. By law, Motor Fleet charges for a monthly minimum of 1,050 miles per car and more for every mile over that. The cost covers maintenance, insurance and gas. However, if cars travel fewer than 1,050 a month, agencies must still pay the flat rate.

“I think it's a good system. It may not be perfect,” Fleggas said.

After WRAL’s 2009 stories, Fleggas says management changes were put into place to improve efficiency. About eight months later, each state department appointed a vehicle coordinator.

“There wasn't really one person designated within an agency that monitored (vehicle use),” he said.

Fleggas and his colleague, Chief Operating Officer Anne Bander, say it's still too early to show improvements.

“It's going to be refined as we learn more and the data becomes more robust. I think we may continue to make changes,” Bander said.

Records obtained by WRAL prior to the management moves show very little changed in unused miles. In some cases, the waste got worse.

Motor fleet costs taxpayers, even when parked Motor fleet costs taxpayers, even when parked

In fiscal year 2009, the DOC spent about $1.7 million for cars that didn't meet minimum mileage. That increased to $2.8 million for the 2010 fiscal year. Health and Human Services used its fleet more, but still spent more than $1 million on cars that didn't reach 1,050 miles.

North Carolina State University and The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reduced the number of leased vehicles, but records show the cost for unused miles per vehicle went up. In many cases for N.C. State, it would have been cheaper to reimburse staff for using personal vehicles.

The bottom line is managing state vehicles is not a perfect science. Motor Fleet set up an online resource to advise departments on the best options for vehicle use, including the use of personal cars.

Many agencies want vehicles for less than the minimum mileage, possibly for seasonal needs or a regional coverage area. The DOC filed to be exempt from the minimum mileage requirement for 2,000 of its vehicles.

The dusty DOC vehicle that sat parked for months last year got moving again, but rarely came close to the 1,050 mark. WRAL also found two vehicles with lower mileage logs assigned to DOC’s central pharmacy.

“(They are) traveling on a daily basis, a frequent basis, but they may not be traveling long distances. So is the mileage going to add up to 1,050? Not necessarily. Are they using the vehicles efficiently? Yes, we think so,” said DOC spokeswoman Pam Walker.

Walker says the 1,050 rule doesn't work for most vehicles, but a change would require legislative action. Agencies have been asking for exemptions, and state leaders hope vehicle coordinators will find ways to make the fleet more efficient.

Governor Bev Perdue expressed frustration Monday that an adequate fix has not been found.

"It boggles the mind that people can't come up with solutions that make common sense, that get the job done. That's what I've instructed, and I hope they understand that," she said.

Contact the WRAL Investigates team


This story is closed for comments.

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  • rroadrunner99 Dec 15, 2010

    What get's me is why are they leasing car's for these agencies and there are car's they could be driving sitting for sale at the State Highway Patrol complex on Blue Ridge Road adjacent to the fair ground's. They need to turn in some of the car's they are paying a lease on and use those car's they are trying to sell I think. The Governor herself need's to explain on TV to the state taxpayer's why this is happening. If the Department head's can't fix it, fire them and hire one that can, there are plenty of people looking for job's now. I'd say there are some that could eliminate some wasteful spending if hired.

  • uknowsomuch Dec 14, 2010

    While probation officers are one facet of state agents who work on weekends, dont forget about the Health Inspectors who check out the restaurants we all eat in! They come at all hours of a restaurants operation, Saturdays and Sundays included. There are many agencies who have valid reasons for vehicles on the road at various hours of day and night. My agency requires that we turn in a paper log of miles used and fuel consumption. Since we also have to put in our mileage each time we fuel, it keeps the system in check. There are unmarked security vehicles and police units, Drivers Ed cars, school officials, building inspectors, prisoner transports, etc...so please judge not lest you are sure you have all the facts!

    Many people posting here would admit they wouldn't have a state job anyway, but are willing to judge what they don't know. So I ask, how many would be willing to continue working without raises (this is the 6th year out of 11 we didn't get one) and take on additional

  • lprop Dec 14, 2010

    If the state government and federal had to manage their business like the private citizen has to manage their's you would see a difference. The government cash flow is unlimited due to tax payer money where the private sector is not. There is really nothing else to say. So what is there to boggle the mind?

  • BKind21Another Dec 14, 2010

    BKind21Another, I am still waiting to be reimbursed for a trip from August. Maybe you can give me some pointers.
    rebelde80, I guess you will have to take that up with the person that processes your travel expense reimbursements, as for the agency I work for, the turn around time for reimbursement checks for cell phone and mileage reimbursement is about 3 or 4 days. If that were my money I was waiting on, I would be in Raleigh wanting to know where my money was! After all, we aren't any of us getting rich working for the state....however, I do love my job! :-)

  • ratherbnwpb Dec 14, 2010

    Anyway, I agree that it is a moot point, since the whole motor pool issue is state agencies paying other state agencies.

    That's it in a nutshell. No more than one state agency shifting money to another state agency.

  • smalldogsrule Dec 14, 2010

    I'll remember that when I see them in the Walmart lot at I-85 in Hillsborough on a Saturday evening, yep I'll bet that state worker is working real hard.

    You do realize that Parole and Probation officers have to VISIT JOB SITES of their clients right?

    Also, it is a Walmart, which means there are **GASP** CASH REGISTERS an SCALES that the Dept. of Agriculture is responsible for calibrating. Just because it is late or weekend and at a walmart, does NOT mean the state employee is not working. So, how about quit being jealous and maybe get a job ofyour own.

  • rebelde80 Dec 14, 2010

    BKind21Another, I am still waiting to be reimbursed for a trip from August. Maybe you can give me some pointers.

    For people complaining about seeing "state" vehicles at stores and other places, not all vehicles with yellow North Carolina State Permanent license plates are "State" vehicles. Read North Carolina General Statutes § 20-84 Permanent registration plates. Many nonprofit organizations, including churches, can have yellow permanent license plates.

    Anyway, I agree that it is a moot point, since the whole motor pool issue is state agencies paying other state agencies.

  • ratherbnwpb Dec 14, 2010

    ucdbicdb- as to the vehicles I see on weekends and nights, I'll remember that when I see them in the Walmart lot at I-85 in Hillsborough on a Saturday evening, yep I'll bet that state worker is working real hard.

    There ya go assuming again!

  • ratherbnwpb Dec 14, 2010

    Wrong.....they are insured through Travelers Insurance Co. Yellow school buses are self insured. sdrawkcab

    Same as the State Health Plan. Travelers and BCBS are only paid to administer the plans. They can still be self insured.

  • ratherbnwpb Dec 14, 2010

    I happen to be on vacation til Jan 1 :-)

    Uh huh! Sure!