The City of Yonkers has a substantial fleet of over 1,053 vehicles, including marked and unmarked cars. Unmarked cars with government license plates are reserved for senior officials and commissioners, providing them with complimentary transportation for emergencies. City Council members and the mayor also receive this benefit. However, Anthony Merante touts his distinction as the only elected official to decline this perk.
While policy restricts vehicle use to official business within city limits, exceptions are common. Examples include drivers taking city cars to White Plains for County Government jobs or even supposedly New Jersey for beach vacations. However, operators of these cars must report personal use, which incurs a fee. And ultimately the IRS taxes the vehicle as a fringe benefit.
The city self-insures these vehicles and also provides fuel fill-up stations maintained by the city. It also monitors gas usage equipped with GPS tracking. But, essentially, much of the enforcement relies on the honor system-leaving questions among taxpayers about the integrity and necessity of this program.
The abuse and gluttony of these costly city cars are out of control and are an unnecessary burden on taxpayers.Anthony Merante
Mayoral candidate Merante isn’t the first to raise this policy as a potential budget problem. Incumbent Mayor Mike Spano also took issue with the free car policy during his first inaugural address in 2012. In these remarks Spano said, “It’s just wrong when the working people are barely getting by, for so many workers to drive home in city cars and fill up their tanks at a city gas pump.” Merante cites this pledge as a broken promise by this 12-year administration.
So, Merante issued a press release on October 9th outlining his plan to cut free city cars for most employees and officials. The notable exception would be 24/7 on-call workers who must respond to emergencies. While not exactly defined, presumably these would be those in Yonkers Police, Fire, and some in DPW.
Merante cites his own rejection of this fringe benefit as an example to others in City Hall. He goes so far as to even call the mayor a “Hollywood Celebrity” for his reliance on being driven around to ribbon-cuttings in a large black SUV by plain-clothed YPD officers.
With an impending budget crunch on the horizon when some federal funding expires, city spending will be a contentious issue. And while the free city car policy has been controversial for well over a decade, it’s not likely to be rescinded by an entire body of people that benefit from it.