IRS audit brings Weld County commissioner mileage expenses into focus | MyWindsorNow.com

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IRS audit brings Weld County commissioner mileage expenses into focus

Mileage money

A closer look at mileage reimbursements for Weld County Commissioners for 2015 and 2016 combined:

» Mike Freeman

No commuting mileage

Total mileage: $2,161

» Steve Moreno

No commuting mileage

Total mileage: $2,742

» Sean Conway

No commuting mileage

Total mileage: $5,533

» Julie Cozad

No commuting mileage

Total mileage: $2,849

» Barbara Kirkmeyer

Commuting mileage: $11,968

Total mileage: $22,583

County commissioners from around the state, including one in Weld County, continue to cash in on their commute from home to work even as an IRS audit focused on that very subject is underway in Weld County.

The audit, which started in April, focuses on whether Weld County should have taken taxes out of commuting mileage expenses Weld commissioners have claimed since at least the 1990s. A final report is expected in late summer or fall.

Since The Tribune first reported in 2014 on Weld County commissioners' penchant for expensing their miles from home to work, and then back home, the makeup of the board has changed along with the habit of claiming miles, according to information obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act Request.

At the time, Bill Garcia, Barbara Kirkmeyer and Doug Rademacher all claimed mileage from home to work.

Only Kirkmeyer remains, and she is alone on the current board in claiming mileage, racking up nearly 22,000 commuting miles and earning nearly $12,000 — at 55 cents per mile — for her commute since the start of 2015.

"I live, round-trip, 85 miles from (Weld County headquarters)," Kirkmeyer said. "All the commissioners used to do commuting miles, all the way back into the 1990s."

State statute, as well as a 1978 Larimer County Court decision, paved the way for state legislators and county commissioners to get reimbursed for commuting.

The reasoning, on both counts, is that those elected representatives must live in certain areas.

But state law doesn't impact IRS rules, and in Colorado, there are likely dozens of county commissioner boards and state legislators watching the IRS audit in Weld County to see what, if any, precedent will be set.

"Other commissioners have asked how the IRS audit is going," Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway said. "Since it became public, I think a lot of counties are looking at what the rules are and how they should implement the rules."

Across Interstate 25, in Larimer County, commissioners Steve Johnson and Lew Gaiter both expense mileage from home to work. For their 2016 commutes, Johnson has earned $2,235 and Gaiter has gotten $4,471.

In Jefferson County, commissioner Donald Rosier earned $3,106 in 2016 for his commuting miles.

Like Weld, Larimer Jefferson counties don't appear to take taxes out of the money paid back to commissioners for commuting miles. The mileage for commuting is submitted with all other non-taxed mileage, as well as other expenses such as meals and hotel stays.

If she's concerned about the IRS audit of Weld County, Kirkmeyer doesn't show it. She says she's not personally being audited, adding that county officials will wait to see what the IRS says, then go from there.

Kirkmeyer lives the farthest away from Greeley, where the county administration building is, with commissioners Steve Moreno and Conway living in Greeley, Commissioner Mike Freeman living in Ault and Commissioner Julie Cozad living in Milliken.

Including her commuting miles, Kirkmeyer earned $22,583 for mileage in the past two years. That's nearly $10,000 more in paid mileage than the other four commissioners combined.

Conway was a distant second, with $5,533 in mileage expenses.

When it comes to commuting mileage, though, Conway said he made a personal, philosophical pledge not to get reimbursed.

"I just don't think it's appropriate," Conway said.

The other commissioners said they don't take mileage mainly because they live so close.

"I've just never done it," Freeman said in a phone interview. "Partly because I'm a little bit lazy. But I've always felt like it was not that big a deal. It's more of a hassle to turn in 12 miles to work."

Cozad, who was on the line with Freeman, said she felt the same.

"I do turn in mileage when I go out of my district," Cozad said. "But within my district, I just don't. It's part of what I do as a public servant; it's just part of my job."

Kirkmeyer has put 21,000 miles on her car just driving to work in the past two years, and it's one reason she said she continues to claim mileage.

"I've worn cars out, worn tires out," Kirkmeyer said.

Both Freeman and Cozad said they would take mileage if they lived as far away as Kirkmeyer.

Moreno, who declined to take mileage after The Tribune's October 2014 story came out during his 2014 campaign for commissioner, said he'd have to think about it.

Tyler Silvy covers city and county government for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at tsilvy@greeleytribune.com. Connect with him at Facebook.com/TylerSilvy or @TylerSilvy on Twitter.