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Commissioners nix take-home vehicles for county employees

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County manager, three other employees receive $4,000 commuting stipend

By Caroline Curran, Reporter

BOLIVIA—County commissioners approved a vehicle policy on Monday that forbids many county employees from commuting in county vehicles.

The policy, which excludes all sheriff’s deputies, was approved after a committee made the vehicle policy recommendations to commissioners.

But at least four county employees will receive an annual stipend for commuting.

County manager Marty Lawing, assistant county manager Steve Stone, parks and recreation director Jim Pryor and public utilities director Jerry Pierce will each receive a $4,000 stipend for commuting, Lawing said. They will also keep their county vehicles to drive while on county business, he said.

Lawing said the vehicles were part of their compensation package, and therefore they would be paid a stipend for not commuting in county vehicles. A fifth county employee—health director Don Yousey—may also receive the stipend if the board of health approves it.

“I can assure you we looked at this from every angle,” Lawing said. “We want to keep the county and the employees who drive the county vehicles in compliance with IRS regulations and hopefully save some costs by having fewer vehicles driven home,” he said.

Lawing also said he wanted to “uphold documented pre-employment agreements, which required a commitment for a vehicle.”

A Beacon reporter obtained copies of Lawing’s and Stone’s employment contracts, neither of which mentions a vehicle for commuting, only for county business.

According to Lawing’s contract, “Lawing’s duties require that he shall have and operate a vehicle while performing the duties required pursuant to this agreement and county shall provide an adequate vehicle of its choosing to Lawing in the conduct of his employment, and should Lawing choose to use his own vehicle, county will pay Lawing for his mileage at the then current rate of compensation as for other county employees. County shall pay Lawing the regular mileage rate for county employees for his use of his vehicle on county business outside Brunswick County, North Carolina. For compensation for mileage, Lawing shall present appropriate authentic records of his mileage.”

When asked about the discrepancy between the employment contracts and what was presented to commissioners for their approval—that vehicles were part of their compensation package—Lawing said the wording in the contract was wrong.

“We had a clear understanding when we came on board that we’d be commuting in those vehicles,” Lawing said.

The Beacon also obtained copies of minutes from county commissioners’ closed session on March 2. According to meeting minutes, commissioner Scott Phillips discussed the liabilities of the vehicle policy with county attorney Huey Marshall.

“The commissioners had examined the employee agreements of all persons at issue to end all community use of county vehicles. The board decided to have the manager and the assistant manager leave their vehicle at the complex but both would receive a stipend of $4,000,” the minutes state.

Fringe benefits

For some county employees, including emergency services director Randy Thomspon and his deputy directors, they can continue to commute in their county vehicle, but are subject to the IRS $3 per day communing rule.

Thompson’s vehicle and all emergency services vehicles must be clearly marked as emergency response vehicles, Lawing said.

“Five employees that would take an assigned vehicle home on a daily basis. These employees may qualify for a commuting rule citing a bona fide business use,” Lawing said.

“They must keep a log of business and personal use and must be responsible for a fringe benefit liability.”

The IRS fringe benefit liability is $780 per year, he said.