Two years after a study determined Andover was "significantly more generous" with vehicle allowances than comparable communities, the list of employees with take-home vehicles has shrunk by just two people.

"We're going in the right direction. Is it fast enough? No. We'd like to see things accelerate in reducing the overall cost, especially around energy," said Selectman Alex Vispoli.

This year, 14 town employees have a take-home vehicle, for which the town pays for fuel, insurance and maintenance. Of those 14, Town Manager Buzz Stapczynski, Police Chief Brian Pattullo and Fire Chief Mike Mansfield can use their take-home vehicle for personal as well as business use.

"The whole rationale behind a take-home car is that these people are on duty 24 hours a day, and can be called back (to work) on nights and weekends," said Stapczynski. "They are out during weather events, snowstorms, water main breaks. We want them available to respond on nights and weekends, and they have first-responder type of equipment in their vehicles."

In 2006 and 2007, Vispoli and Selectman Mary Lyman spearheaded a study on Andover's vehicle usage, and recommended the town manager not include vehicles in future offers of employment.

"We spent a lot of time on this, and went with a balance of being aggressive in reducing the benefit with the practicality of the situation," said Vispoli.

Since 2007, new people were hired as building superintendent and highway general foreman, and the take-home car benefit was removed from the job.

"This is a practice we continue to look at and will be making changes as positions become vacant, and review the justification of the vehicle," said Stapczynski, who drives a town-owned 2000 Buick sedan, the oldest of the vehicles. The town paid for $938 in gas for Stapczynski during the fiscal year that just ended (see box, page 1).

On the average, employee take-home vehicles are replaced every five to eight years, he said.

"Things have improved, and there is more room for improvement," said Lyman. "The need is as great as ever to make continued progress, with the economy and gas prices ... We continue to make efforts to reduce our expenses in this area, in effort to provide dollars for the essential services we need to provide. It kills me to give money to one thing, and see another get cut. It really is not fair to the town, and the other employees (who don't get cars)."

Besides the 14 with take-home vehicles, 20 town-side employees receive a monthly travel allowance of between $75 and $150, including the director of conservation, building inspector, health agent, director of youth services and other positions. Employees with a monthly travel allowance are also reimbursed 36 cents per mile traveled within town on the job. All remaining town employees that do no receive a take-home vehicle or travel allowance are reimbursed 55 cents per mile for travel on the job.

With the exception of Stapczynski, Mansfield and Pattullo, employees with take-home vehicles are only allowed to use it for commuting.

"These vehicles are not for their personal use, it is for their commuting. They can't take it on vacation, use it on the weekends to go to the mall. This is for their business use," said Stapczynski. "There are restrictions. They can't travel with family members in the vehicle. It's for municipal purposes only, to go back and forth to work and use during the course of the day for traveling around town on business."

Going forward, Vispoli said taking away employee take-home vehicles before an employee leaves or retires might be one of many options selectmen consider to save money.

"Given the economic realities, I think it's safe to say everything is on the table, as far as consideration," he said.

Perk: Free car

Town employees who have a take-home vehicle in 2009:

Buzz Stapczynski, town manager

James Hashem, police operations commander

Brian Pattullo, police chief

Michael Mansfield, fire chief

Joe Piantedosi, plant and facilities department director

Ralph Knight, mechanical/electrical superintendent (plant and facilities department)

Randy Pickersgill, parks and ground superintendent (plant and facilities department)

Joe Favreau, vehicle maintenance superintendent (plant and facilities department)

Jack Petkus, department of public works director

John Pollano, water treatment plant superintendent (DPW)

Morris Gray, water/sewer superintendent (DPW)

Brian Moore, town engineer (DPW)

Christopher Cronin, highway superintendent (DPW)

Michael Murnane, general foreman for water/sewer (DPW)

Also, one canine police officer takes a police cruiser home when he brings the police dog home

BY THE NUMBERS: town vehicle gas use

During fiscal year 2009, which ended June 30, the town used 132,574 gallons of fuel. The town was under budget by $61,291, according to Plant and Facilities Director Joe Piantedosi. Here are the users:

Police: 42,842 gallons; $89,788

Highway: 27,941 gallons; $63,852

Plant and Facilities: 24,491 gallons; $55,507

Fire: 17,097 gallons; $42,582

Water department: 14,563 gallons; $32,797

Youth Services: 2,080 gallons; $5,083

Council On Aging: 1,850 gallons; $3,952

Town Manager: 440 gallons; $938

Source: Joe Piantedosi and Maria Maggio, Plant and Facilities Department

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