Salt Lake City's car-allowance program, which provides up to $300 monthly to city employees, has degenerated from an employee-reimbursement plan into a perk arbitrarily given to city officials, a City Council audit concludes.

The audit, conducted by council auditor Lee King and discussed by the City Council Thursday, also concludes that despite no indication of widespread abuse of the policy, it should be refined.The original intent of the car allowance policy, adopted in 1985, was to reimburse city employees for using their cars while doing the city's business.

"That intent is no longer being followed, and it appears to be a perk instead of a reimbursement for expenses," the audit said, adding the perk helps attract and retain executives.

"Its become obvious the original intent (of the policy) has gone awry," Councilman W.M. "Willie" Stoler complained.

Fifty-six employees receive automobile allowances, 41 of those get the maximum $300. "Automobile allowances are routinely approved for department heads and selected other individuals," the audit said.

Additionally, amounts of car allowances vary arbitrarily, from $100 to $300 monthly. For example, police captains enjoy a $300 allowance while their fire department counterparts, battalion chiefs, get a $150 allowance.

The council directed its staff to research a new policy to address the audit findings. Council Executive Director Linda Hamilton said the staff must coordinate a new policy with Mayor Palmer DePaulis, who administers the policy.

But Human Resources Director Karen Suzuki-Hashimoto said her department is already reviewing the car-allowance policy as part of a comprehensive revision of the city's various compensation policies.

Suzuki-Hashimoto said the allowances are less expensive than providing vehicles for government executives, as some jurisdictions do. Salt Lake City does, however, provide take-home cars for many police officers.

A car-allowance policy revision has been submitted to department heads, she said.

Other audit findings conclude the city does not document city cars that are taken home under the condition they not be used for personal use. Those cars are supposed to be limited to use by those who are, for example, on an emergency-call status.

The city's take-home policy for police cars, not considered in the audit, will be studied later, King said.