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North York changes gas perk policy
The North York borough council president will no longer have access to a borough gas card to fuel her personal vehicle for official business after questions about accountability were raised.
The gas card was one of two perks traditionally offered to the sitting president and vice president. The second allowed the elected officials to have cellphones paid for by the borough. Vivian Amspacher, the current president, was the only elected official to take the borough up on its offers in recent years.
"I was unaware the borough was ... in the position to offer gas cards and cellphones," said Mayor Jerry Duncan, referring to the financial implications of ongoing legal action — the borough is in the midst of a nearly $1 million lawsuit brought against it by a group of former employees.
Right to know: In 2015, Amspacher fueled up her vehicle nine times, accounting for 126 gallons that cost the borough $231, according to documents obtained by The York Dispatch through a right -to-know request.
Amspacher said she never took advantage of having the gas card and only used it to fuel her truck for borough business.
She contends that her use of the gas card is being used against her politically and personally.
"It's retaliation," she said. "I think it's personal. I'm not willing to get into that."
The cellphone, Amspacher said, is simply a tool that keeps in near-constant contact with borough employees. For example, if Amspacher's driving through North York and notices the public works department has to fix something, she can call an employee, she said.
She said she used the phone 99 percent of the time for borough business. She typically puts in a few hours each day doing borough work.
"It's a tool to keep business going," she said. "Generally, it is used for the purpose of reaching employees."
Council members and the mayor at paid $1,750 yearly.
Change: Amspacher must now record her mileage and will be reimbursed by the borough at the federal rate, which, according to the IRS, is 54 cents per mile.
Borough employee Jack Graybill, codes enforcement and zoning officer, also has a borough cellphone and had a gas card. He must also record his mileage for reimbursement, Amspacher said.
The change came after council member Rick Shank raised issues during a council meeting last month on the heels of a separate right-to-know request filed by Duncan. During the same meeting, the council narrowly approved allowing Amspacher to keep the cellphone.
Duncan's request showed that Amspacher pumped 80 gallons of gas into her vehicle in a single month in 2014, he said.
"Where are you going that you use this much fuel? I guess I question why we need it when the borough is such a small geographical area," Duncan said. "What's to stop somebody from putting gas in a vehicle that has nothing to do with the borough?"
The borough covers 0.3 of a square mile.
Shank, who is a former vice president but didn't take a cellphone or gas card when he served in the post, said the council reversed course on the gas card so there'd be oversight and accountability.
"We felt it was only right," he said. "I didn't feel it was appropriate" for an elected official to have a gas card without accountability.
Gas card: Amspacher said she was allowed to fill up her tank twice a month when she had a gas card but rarely did so.
Amspacher said she has no problems with having to record her mileage for reimbursement but said going that route may end up costing taxpayers more money. The borough, as a government entity, gets its gas tax-free.
The most gas she pumped in one month last year was in February when she put just more than 20 gallons in her truck. On Feb. 13, she put 14 gallons into her truck and, about a week later, pumped another 6.6 gallons on Feb. 22, according to the documents.
Assuming Amspacher's truck gets 23.4 miles per gallon, the average for a 2010 pickup truck, she'd had to have driven 328 miles over the course of those 10 days.
Generally, the gas Amspacher used was to drive to pick up borough supplies outside of North York and to drive around the borough, she said.
"Sometimes it's just going through the borough to see what's going on," she said.
— Reach Greg Gross at firstname.lastname@example.org.