Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has been receiving an extra $8,400 in annual pay to offset wear and tear on his personal vehicle -- even though he's regularly chauffeured by a member of his security detail in a city-owned, maroon Mercury Grand Marquis.
The payment is included in the current budget and the one for next year, but it's not clear if Wilder drew the same figure during his first two years in office.
Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman says Wilder was unaware he was pulling an auto allowance on top of his $125,000 salary. "Now that this has been brought to his attention," Norman says, "he's going to have it taken out of the budget."
The mayor may be the only person in City Hall with a driver, but he's not the only one whose pay is fattened with an allowance for automotive upkeep. (He is, however, at the top end of the auto allowance scale, which ranges from $3,600 for City Assessor James Hester to $9,000 for Chief Administrative Officer Sheila Hill-Christian in the proposed 2009 budget.)
This year's budget proposes $196,080 from the 2009 general fund to pay auto allowances to 32 administration employees including 16 department heads, the mayor, and spokesman Norman ($5,400) a fact that vexes 1st District Councilman Bruce Tyler. He says the arrangement is a covert way to fluff administration salaries.
"Explain to me why Linwood [Norman] needs a car?" Tyler says. "That's a good one. Or people that are in budget and finance. Why do you need people in budget and finance to have a car allowance? It just doesn't make sense."
Two of the mayor's top aides, finance officials and the head of the Department of Information Technology are among those who receive the payouts.
Tyler says the city spends about $20 million a year to operate a fleet of city-owned vehicles. He can't understand why the automotive allowances can't come out of that already bloated fund.
When asked why the auto allowances were necessary, Norman replies, "Ask any locality."
Henrico County has no such program, Finance Director John Vithoulkas confirms. Employees who need vehicles for work drive cars from the county's fleet.
Chesterfield County pays auto allowances to two county-employed physicians and nine department heads employees "that have more night and out-of-the-office business" and those likely "to respond to a work-related emergency" says Scott Zaremba, the county's assistant director of human resources.
"Employees with an auto allowance are on-call 24/7 for city business using their own personal vehicles," Norman says, "and they are compensated for fuel costs and the wear and tear associated with using their own vehicles."
That answer doesn't satisfy Tyler, who sits on City Council's finance committee.
"The taxpayers of Richmond need relief. I appreciate the mayor's zeal when he talks about rooting out corruption," he says, "but a close cousin to corruption is complacency." Click here for more News and Features