Mayor will track how often vehicle is driven for nonwater uses
By David Skolnick
The water department will get about half of the $28,757.50 cost of Mayor Jamael Tito Brown’s incoming city vehicle reimbursed from the general fund, the city’s law director says.
The 2018 Ford Explorer ordered for the mayor was paid completely from water fund money.
Councilwoman Lauren McNally, D-5th, told The Vindicator the purchase “sounds illegal to me.”
Law Director Jeff Limbian acknowledged Wednesday because Brown isn’t going to use the vehicle 100 percent of the time for water use, the general fund will eventually have to pay the water fund for nonwater use by the mayor.
But Limbian added it’s “completely legal and completely ethical” to purchase Brown’s vehicle with water funds.
“He’s financially responsible for water issues,” Limbian said. But over the next year the city will determine how much of the vehicles use is for water issues, he said.
“We expect the general fund will be responsible for about 50 percent of the cost,” Limbian said.
The board of control – consisting of Brown, Limbian and Kyle Miasek, the interim finance director – approved the purchase of the SUV through state purchasing from Lebanon Ford in Warren County.
Brown will keep track of how often he uses the vehicle for water and nonwater uses, Limbian said.
Late last week, Brown told The Vindicator – with Limbian in the room – the vehicle would be a water department vehicle and those in the water department could use it anytime it’s needed even though he would take the SUV home.
The issue of the mayor’s vehicle came after McNally asked during a council finance committee meeting why the city water department couldn’t buy snowplows and lease them to the street department.
Limbian said that wouldn’t be permissible because unlike the mayor’s incoming Ford Explorer, snowplows are not part of the water department’s fleet.
The general fund is currently projected to have a $1 million deficit this year while the water department has about a $13 million surplus. It’s illegal to use water department money to balance the general fund.
Council will meet next Wednesday with city administration officials to discuss ways to balance the general fund.
After the meeting, McNally said she “had an issue” with the way the mayor’s SUV was purchased with water department funds.
“It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “Our health department uses vehicles that are the same as the water department, and you can’t purchase those vehicles using water funds. If [Brown] wants the vehicle, put it in his budget.”
Councilman Mike Ray, D-4th, said expenses of city-owned assets should be charged to the proper departments and it “probably makes more sense” for Brown’s vehicle to have been paid out of a combination of general, water and sewer funds.
Councilwoman Basia Adamczak, D-7th, said she was “really concerned with the budget deficit. We could have waited to get a vehicle until we passed a budget. Until then, he should use a vehicle already in the fleet.”
Brown is currently using a city-owned Jeep with about 100,000 miles on it. Brown said he is paying for his own gas and plans to do so once his new SUV arrives.
Limbian said it’s cheaper to buy a vehicle for the mayor and have him pay for his own gas than for him to use his own car and be reimbursed for gas.
City vehicles can use city gas at water and street departments’ locations.
The two mayors before Brown – John A. McNally and Charles Sammarone – almost exclusively used their own vehicles.
McNally said he only used a city car two times: for a pair of trips to Washington, D.C., and never used city gas for his personal vehicle.
Sammarone said he used his own car 99 percent of the time, but primarily used city gas.
The last mayor to use a car purchased by the city was Jay Williams, who had a vehicle purchased for him shortly after he took office in 2006.