The 2019 legislative session starts next week, and at some point during the two-month long session Delegate Gary Howell (R-Mineral) expects he will be able to stand up on the floor and announce how many vehicles the state owns and operates.

Normally, such a detail would be mundane. However, the state has been unable to say exactly how many cars, trucks and other vehicles are in the fleet. The numbers vary widely. Counts by three different agencies in 2016 put the number of state vehicles from a low of 7,648 to a high of 12,609.

Howell, who is Chairman of the House Government Organization Committee, has taken on the challenge of trying to figure out just how many cars and trucks the state owns and operates. It hasn’t been easy. In fact, it’s taken several years.

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Del. Gary Howell (R-Mineral, 56)

Last year, Governor Jim Justice signed into law HB 4015 creating a Fleet Management Division within the administration.  One of the provisions of that bill requires all state agencies with vehicles to turn in those familiar green license plates and replace them with new gold and blue plates by January 1, 2019.

Howell told MetroNews’ Jeff Jenkins, “Every state agency had to literally go out into their parking lot, get the VIN number off the vehicle and submit it into the state computer system through OASIS and request a new license plate.  That way we will know exactly what vehicles are out there.  We have a complete up-to-date list. The tags are going to match.”

Additionally, the tags have to be renewed every two years, unlike the old green and white plates that never expired.  Howell likes to tell the story of the state receiving a bill from the New Jersey Turnpike for a vehicle with a West Virginia green and white state plate that ran a toll booth without paying. The state sold that vehicle in 1996, but the plate was still in circulation.

“One thing we expect to find is that there might be some green tags out there that aren’t on state vehicles and people have just been running around on (them),” Howell said.  He added that the issuance of new tags has also turned up an instance where two government agencies claimed the same vehicles.

The policy changes also require state agencies to provide more detailed information about how state vehicles are used, including mileage, destination and the purpose of the trip. Howell believes the data will help the state determine whether the vehicle use is valid or, in some cases, whether it would be cheaper just to rent a vehicle.

The law also says the state Auditor must conduct “spot audits” of at least 20 percent of the state’s vehicle fleet every year to check for compliance and proper record keeping.

It has been several years since Howell first asked what he thought was a simple question—how many vehicles are in the state fleet?  Now he and the state may finally get an answer.

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