Nassau County's oversight of its fleet of nearly 300 take-home vehicles is so lax that employees have amassed more than $20,000 in unpaid traffic tickets and workers who live in Suffolk have racked up thousands of dollars in excess fuel and depreciation costs, an audit by County Comptroller George Maragos found.
The report, released Friday, said poor supervision of its 282 take-home vehicles had exposed the county to unnecessary expense and liability.
Maragos said county workers had shown "callous disregard" by amassing 218 unpaid traffic tickets dating to 2009 with fines and penalties totaling $20,554.
They include 12 tickets, totaling $1,355, generated by the defunct school-zone speed camera program, which was canceled last year following community opposition. Tickets are the drivers' responsibility.
The audit, which began in the spring, was spurred by tips about usage of take-home cars for personal reasons. It found numerous instances of questionable usage and departments failing to manage their vehicle stock properly.
A total of 275 take-home vehicles are assigned to county workers in 22 departments.
"We are seeing significant weakness in the oversight of not only who has these cars, but of their purpose and if they are really needed," Maragos said.
The audit found that:
Five New York State supervising judges -- from the Supreme Court Matrimonial Center, County Court, Surrogate's Court, Family Court and District Court -- and Nassau's Commissioner of Jurors have take-home cars. The county failed to seek reimbursement from the state for expenses associated with the vehicles, Maragos said. Nassau courts spokesman Daniel Bagnuola said the cars "are used, in part, for official court business," including travel between courthouses. He said Nassau has had a "long-standing practice" of providing vehicles to those individuals since at least the 1970s.
Eleven public works employees with take-home cars live in Suffolk County. They racked up excess fuel and vehicle depreciation costs totaling $60,000 annually.
The county provided auditors with out-of-date information showing that 21 employees were listed as having take-home cars even though they had retired months earlier. Nassau does not maintain a master list of its take-home vehicles or their drivers, auditors said.
The Police Department failed to use a state database to verify whether its employees with take-home vehicles had valid driver's licenses. Police officials said they were concerned the personal information of their officers could fall into the wrong hands.
"Long-standing practices of state judges and out-of-county employees holding onto cars needs to be reviewed and possibly abolished," Maragos said.Maragos credited County Executive Edward Mangano with cutting the number of take-home vehicles since taking office in 2010. The county had 506 such vehicles in 2008 compared with 282 this year.
"Most take-home cars are nondiscretionary and governed by collective bargaining agreements for employee use in performance of duties, such as police and fire marshal vehicles," said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.
Auditors probed allegations that four take-home cars were driven by county employees without authorization; Maragos referred three of the cases to the district attorney's office.
A spokesman for acting District Attorney Madeline Singas could not provide information on the status of the cases. Nassau officials said the individuals have been retrained, but that they had not committed crimes.