Annual policy renewal allows certain government vehicles to go unmarked

SEAL OF APPROVAL: Bartow County looks to renew state decal exemption policy

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It’s a little-known law that took effect in Georgia almost 20 years ago — House Bill 648, which mandates that specific vehicles owned or leased by government agencies via public funding “be identified with certain markings, decals or seals.”

But as Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson explained, the local government has managed to circumvent that state law — at least for some vehicles — for nearly two decades.

“They passed a law in 2000 that said every county vehicle has to have a logo on the front doors unless they’ve adopted a separate policy and they renew that policy every year,” Olson said. “So going back to Clarence Brown’s era, we’ve just continued it.”

Under the 2000 law, which received Gov. Roy Barnes' signature on April 20 of that year, each motor vehicle owned or leased by “any county, municipality, regional development center, county or independent school system, commission, board or public authority” in the state must be affixed with at least two visible decals or seals identifying the specific government agency or department to which it belongs. The same requirements are also in place for any vehicles owned or leased by Georgia's public officials and public employees using public funds.

But as Olson noted, some of those requirements can easily be supplanted via “a resolution or ordinance adopted by the governing authority of a county or municipality” expressly exempting certain vehicles owned or leased by the local government from the state mandate.

For Bartow County, Olson said the policy is to mark vehicles that are primarily used for in-county official duties — such as inspections and appraisals — but to exempt vehicles that are regularly used for out-of-county transportation.

“We’ve mainly just given it to a few folks who have more administrative jobs,” he said. “If it’s a vehicle for the tax assessor or code enforcement, the fire department, all those kinds of vehicles, they’re all marked. A few department heads don’t have marked vehicles because they travel around and it just gives people the wrong idea of what’s going on.”

Since his job requires him to drive well beyond the confines of Bartow, Olson said he's experienced that “unnecessary confusion” firsthand. 

“I’m somebody who travels all over the state and then you get people going ‘Why the heck was a Bartow County vehicle down in Jekyll Island or down in Savannah or down in Atlanta in a parking deck?’” he said. 

Not that employees have to drive that far to stir the suspicions of some residents.

“Some of our department heads that are on call 24/7 have a marked vehicle that they commute home in because they have to be able to come in on a moment’s notice and they’ll stop on their way home at a grocery store or somewhere,” Olson said. “And we’ll get a call going ‘Hey, what was your county vehicle doing at the Ingles at 6:30 at night?'”

Having or not having a decal on a county vehicle, Olson said, ultimately has no impact on the county's insurance policies, however.

“They’re all government-registered, and it’s not a secret that they’re government vehicles, it just keeps the big gumball off the side of the vehicle,” he said. “We get a standard rate per vehicle, which is very low. It will make all the private citizens jealous — it’s about $200 a vehicle to insure our vehicles for liability and another, let’s say $150, for comprehensive.”

Before the county renews the official decal policy, a public hearing on the subject is scheduled Feb. 6. The meeting will take place at 10 a.m. at the Frank Moore Administration and Judicial Center, at 135 West Cherokee Ave. in Cartersville.