Some top administrators have vehicles provided

Mike Linn: CNJ news editor

Taxpayer-bought automobiles, free memberships to Gym X and tuition waivers are the main incentives — besides paychecks and benefits — for public employees working in Curry County.

Most of Curry County’s high-ranking public employees drive in cars paid for by the public agency they serve.

City and county officials serving in management, officials with the street and road departments, and many on-call employees get to take vehicles home.

However, the privilege comes with a price: City and county employees provided cars must pay roughly a $3-a-day tax on the vehicles, or about $780 a year per person, officials said.

Besides vehicles, Clovis Community College employees — and their spouses — receive up to four hours per semester in tuition waivers, officials at the college said.

Police and firefighters get free memberships to Gym X, paid for by the departments.

“It keeps the employees in shape, that’s probably the biggest reason we do it,” said Capt. Dan Blair of the Clovis Police Department.

The department pays about $320 a month for memberships, officials said.

Regarding automobiles, city and county officials are under tight restrictions with the vehicles they drive.

“My granddaughter asked me when she’s going to get a chance to ride in my county car … and I said never,” County Manager Geneva Cooper said.

City and county employees are not permitted to use their vehicles for personal use.

That’s not the case for Clovis Community College President Beverlee McClure or for Clovis schools Superintendent Neil Nuttall. Both have vehicles they can use for personal use and for work.

McClure is provided a Ford Expedition for her exclusive business and personal use. Per Internal Revenue Service regulations, her personal use of the vehicle is a taxable benefit that is reported to the IRS, according to her contract.

For calendar year 2003, the college reported $2,535 as a taxable benefit for McClure’s use of the Expedition.

Nuttall and the public schools’ heads of the custodial and maintenance departments receive vehicles to take home.

Nuttall said he doesn’t have to pay anything for trips to and from work and for drives that are work-related, but he does have to pay taxes anytime he uses the vehicle for personal use. He said he pays between $21 and $32 a month for personal use of the vehicle.

Other school officials — especially those who travel often on business — have the option of checking out a car from a small fleet that stays at the administration office. If an employee takes a business trip, they don’t have to pay taxes on the vehicles, said Assistant Superintendent Jim McDaniel.

About 20 teachers who live in Clovis and work at Ranchvale Elementary — considered part of the Clovis school district — are paid $50 a month to cover travel expenses. McDaniel said even if all 20 employees crammed into the same vehicle and carpooled to work, they would each still get $50 a month.

School officials who work in technology and travel often from school to school, also receive $50 a month for travel purposes. Like the Ranchvale teachers, they use their own cars, McDaniel said.

Don Clifton of the city’s finance department said about 15 city officials take home vehicles, along with about 60 police officers.

There are about 150 cars in the city’s fleet. Many are used by the police department and by the city’s public works and street departments.

City Manager Ray Mondragon rides in a city-owned 2001 Buick LeSabre.

Clifton said the city purchased the car — seized by police in a drug raid — for $11,000. The money was transfered from the city’s general fund to the police/metro grant fund, which pays to fight narcotics use in the city.