(WAFB) - Just one vehicle in a local tax assessor’s office costs taxpayers more than $600 per month to insure, an examination by the 9News Investigators has revealed.
The annual cost to insure all 22 vehicles assigned to tax assessors and some of their employees in East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Ascension parishes tops $113,000, records show.
The assessors who run each office say the insurance premiums are high because of Louisiana’s unusually high insurance rates and the need for them to have more coverage due to vehicles being owned by public agencies.
East Baton Rouge Parish Tax Assessor Brian Wilson drives a 2017 Chevy Tahoe. That vehicle alone costs taxpayers $631.25 per month to insure. A 2013 Chevy Tahoe assigned to Wilson’s chief deputy has a $603.50 per month insurance policy, records show. The office has a total of nine “take-home” vehicles.
Livingston Parish Tax Assessor Jeff Taylor drives a 2019 Toyota Tundra that was purchased for $40,652.75, records show.
In December of 2018, Taylor drove his take-home vehicle to Grand Isle, a WAFB search of state public records determined. Taylor said, as incoming president of the Louisiana Assessor’s Association, he was in that area on official business meeting with tax assessors from other parishes including Assumption, St. James, and Lafourche. His meeting with the assessor in Lafourche, the closest to Grand Isle, was not until Dec. 11. However, his take-home vehicle passed through the toll booth heading into Grand Isle on Dec. 7, 2018, a Friday, at 8:25 p.m., and again on Dec. 11, 2018 at 8:35 p.m., state records show.
Among the other Livingston assessor’s office employees with a take-home vehicles is Molli Latil, Taylor’s chief office administrator. Latil is assigned to a 2019 Chevy Equinox. Latil’s official job description includes supervising the front counter and the transfer department, as well as scheduling Taylor’s meetings and calendar. The job description does not include anything that appears to require regular trips outside the office. Latil makes $76,500 per year, records show.
Tim McMasters heads up Human Resources for the Livingston Assessor’s office. He is assigned a 2015 Chevy Suburban as a take-home vehicle, records show.
Taxpayers shell out a total of $2,190 per month to insure all eight vehicles in the Livingston assessor’s fleet, records show.
In Ascension Parish, the assessor’s office has five total vehicles. Three of them are assigned to people who are allowed to take the vehicles home at night. That office pays $31,990 per year to insure the five-vehicle fleet.
We showed our findings to Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, who often provides input on the spending of public money.
Goyeneche questions whether so many vehicles are needed by these offices and whether it would be a “more prudent use of public assets” to pay many of these employees mileage instead of giving them vehicles and paying the large monthly insurance rates that go along with them.
“That’s a real benefit,” Goyeneche said. “Not having to purchase a car, not having to maintain a car, and not having to pay insurance on a car.”
Tax laws require most, if not all, of the employees to report the take-home vehicles as fringe benefit on their taxes.
The nine vehicles in East Baton Rouge Parish are the most expensive to insure, despite seven of them being models 2013 or older, records show. EBR Assessor Brian Wilson says the vehicles in his office are currently insured by Travelers Insurance and he says his office regularly shops around for lower rates.
“The East Baton Rouge Parish Assessor’s Office has always provided vehicles to the chief deputy, office managers, and one administrative assistant,” Wilson said by email. “These employees are required, for many reasons, to travel throughout the day. Office managers transport documents between offices, do field inspections, and travel to our main location for computer and other required training.”
Wilson says the vehicle issued to the office’s administrative assistant is used daily for banking, office supply runs, and trips to places like the post office, the Louisiana Assessors Association, and the Louisiana Tax Commission. Wilson says there’s no secure place to store the vehicles at the various offices overnight and he believes it’s more “cost effective” for the vehicles to be taken home. He says some of the employees with take-home vehicles are frequently assigned to do inspections while traveling “to and from the office.”
“Office vehicles are strictly for office use only,” Wilson said. “Vehicles are to be used for travel to and from work. In the daily commute, I do allow employees to drop off or pick up a family member if needed. Vehicle use is strictly prohibited on Saturdays, Sundays, and any office-observed holiday.”
“I do understand our rates are high, but Louisiana has one of the highest automobile insurance rates in the country and in our case, it is also because we are a government agency,” Wilson said. “I am shopping around now for better rates. Based on the coverage that we have, this is what our rates are. I do not know what the coverage is for the surrounding parish assessors for their take-home vehicles.”
The Livingston Parish Assessor’s Office does not have any written rules regarding the use of take-home vehicles. Employees in that parish are also allowed to drop off or pick up a family member in the vehicles. The EBR Assessor’s Office take-home vehicles include the following:
- Brian Wilson, assessor: 2017 Chevy Tahoe (monthly insurance rate: $631.25)
- Blane Jarreau, chief deputy: 2013 Chevy Tahoe (monthly insurance rate: $603.50)
- Prentist Higginbotham, office manager: 2007 Chevy Impala (monthly insurance rate: $217.09)
- Catalina Bogdan, administrative assistant: 2017 Dodge Durango (monthly insurance rate: $583.00)
- Chelsea Saucier, office manager: 2011 Chevy Impala (monthly insurance rate: $227.84)
- Eric Devall, office manager: 2013 Ford Explorer (monthly insurance rate: $580.25)
- Kevin Henderson, field man: 2013 Ford Explorer (monthly insurance rate: $580.25)
- Frank Mauberret, field man: 2013 Ford Explorer (monthly insurance rate: $580.25)
- Stephen Dyson, field man: 2013 Ford Explorer (monthly insurance rate: $580.25)
The Livingston Parish Assessor’s Office take-home vehicles include the following:
- Jeff Taylor, assessor: 2019 Toyota Tundra
- Darrell Whitehead, commercial appraiser: 2017 Chevy Silverado
- Tim McMasters, human resources: 2015 Chevy Suburban
- Justin Harris, field appraiser: 2019 Chevy Equinox
- Tommy Glover, field appraiser: 2012 Chevy Silverado
- Jim Kiker, field appraiser: 2019 Chevy Equinox
- Molli Latil, chief office administrator: 2019 Chevy Equinox
- Rhett Major, field appraiser: 2019 Chevy Equinox
The Ascension Parish Assessor’s Office take-home vehicles include the following:
- Mert Smiley, assessor: 2017 Ford Expedition
- Justin Champlin, chief deputy assessor: 2013 Ford Escape
- Jeffery Dinino, field manager: 2018 Ford Escape
The Ascension Parish Assessor’s Office vehicles that are not taken home at night include the following:
- Jas Cornett, field deputy: 2018 Field Escape
- Austin Courville, field deputy: 2017 Ford Escape
WAFB’s special report from Kiran Chawla airs tonight on 9News at 10.