MUD Board will revisit manager vehicle policy in January

By Tabitha Evans Moore | EDITOR & PUBLISHER

LOCAL NEWS | Just like car accidents and medical events, water emergencies happen every week in Moore County, and at all hours of the day and night. When the proverbial “tones” ring, some Metro Utilities Department official must respond and sometimes that person is MUD Manager Ronnie Cunningham.

And on Tuesday, MUD Board member Glen Thomas made a motion to revisit the policy that currently prevents Cunningham from driving a MUD-owned vehicle home each night. New member Greg Guinn seconded his motion.

15,000 extra miles per year

The members of the previous board — of which only Shane Taylor and Barry Posluszny remain — voted to prevent such overnight possessions in 2021. That move was partially fueled by public criticism about the previous director’s commute to-and-from Elora each day in a MUD-owned vehicle.

Elora sits 28 miles from Lynchburg. Assuming a five day workday and no personal miles, that’s nearly 15,000 additional miles each year on a publicly funded vehicle.

But Cunningham lives near the Moore County line on Awalt Road just two miles away from the nearest MUD water lines and a little over 13 miles from the MUD offices in Lynchburg. As such, Thomas felt the policy deserved a second look.

“He should be allowed to drive it to-and-from work,” Thomas explained during his motion.

Fellow member Barry Posluszny pushed back slightly by asking to get a legal opinion about whether or not there would be “fringe benefit” tax implications that could adversely financially impact Cunningham. Posluszny is one of two remaining board members from the 2021 MUD Board that included now chair Shane Taylor, then chair Keith Moses, Will Shavers, and Jon Robertson.

Thomas responded that there was already a precedent at a fellow Metro department with a similar situation.

“If I’m not mistaken, they do the exact same thing at the Metro Highway Department,” Thomas said.

New policy will be voted on in January

According to Internal Revenue Services (IRS) documentation that the 2021 MUD Board used to make their decision, “if an employer provides a vehicle that an employee uses exclusively for business purposes and the substantiation requirements are met, there are no tax consequences or reporting required.”

However, the IRS also states that “business” does not include commuting. In that case and in order to stay out of hot water, Cunningham would need to separate and document his mileage accordingly. Business uses are not taxable but personal use would be taxable as a form of wages, according to the IRS. {To view the IRS’s guidelines on fringe benefit taxations, click here.}

Also should any Metro employee use a Metro-owned vehicle for both business and personal use and choose not to file mileage reporting, then “the value of all use of the automobile is wages to the employee.”

The previous Board voted to use the vehicle cents-per-mile valuation rule for reporting as defined by the U.S. Treasury Reg. Section 1.61-21(e). Special rules also apply to qualified specialized utility repair trucks that carry tools and equipment that are used for emergency call-outs to restore or maintain utility services.

According to MUD officials, the utility maintains an on-call truck for this purpose that is driven by the on-call person, which may or may not be Cunningham.

“Now the maintenance crew typically all respond when there is a leak,” they said. “The on-call guy goes out first, and the rest of the crew meet at the shop, gather materials, and then meet the on-call guy to work on the repair.”

MUD official Brooke Fanning, told the Board that she’d consulted state auditors a month ago in anticipation of the requested change. She and Thomas will now craft a policy revision, which will be voted on at the next Metro Utility Board meeting that takes place Tuesday, January 9 at 6 p.m. at the MUD offices located at 738 Fayetteville Highway in Lynchburg. All Metro public boards, commissions, and councils must allow for public comment at every meeting on any subject on that nights agenda. •

{The Lynchburg Times is the only locally-owned and locally-operated community newspaper in Lynchburg, Tennessee and one of the few women-owned newspaper in the state. They cover local news and events as well as the tourism and whiskey industries in southern, middle Tennessee. Click here to subscribe.}