Driving your dollars: 221 publicly owned cars on streets

Published 12:27 am Sunday, July 15, 2012

Photos by Ben Hillyer/The Natchez Democrat — The city and county own more than 200 vehicles, which can be seen parked and driving all over town. Clockwise from top left, Natchez Public Works owns 16 cars, most of which are work trucks. The Natchez Transit Authority owns the most vehicles in the city with a fleet of 33. The Adams County Sheriff’s Office has more vehicles than any local agency at 45.

By Vershal Hogan & Lindsey Shelton

NATCHEZ — Taxpayers in Natchez and Adams County own 221 government vehicles, give or take anywhere between two and a few dozen vehicles that may not be accurately accounted for on any list.

Of those 221, at least 60 are take-home vehicles, however accurate counts are unavailable due to incomplete answers from some departments.

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Data obtained from the Natchez City Clerk’s office and adjusted by department heads that said the clerk’s information was inaccurate shows the City of Natchez owns 143 vehicles, 35 of which spend the night in the driveways of employees. To see a complete list of the city vehicles click here.

Data provided by the Adams County Chancery Clerk’s office and a few county department heads shows the county owns 78 vehicles, close to half of which go home each night. To see a complete list of the county vehicles click here.

However, two Ford Explorers with government tags and markings spotted by a Natchez Democrat photographer Friday were not included on any of the provided lists. The vehicles were parked outside the sanitation department before 5 p.m. Friday but were gone after 5 p.m. One of the vehicles had returned Saturday.

Adams County Supervisor Mike Lazarus said the road department uses one of the Explorers, and the county’s mail and bank courier, Don Bates, uses another. The vehicles are not supposed to be take-home vehicles, Lazarus said.

Bates was on the provided list as having a take-home 1996 Crown Victoria, which Lazarus said recently stopped functioning.

In addition, county data is incomplete because the Adams County Sheriff’s Office did not fully comply with a written request filed under the Mississippi Freedom of Information Act for its data.

While the county office was able to generate a vehicle inventory for the sheriff’s office in response to a public records request filed June 13, two elements of the request — who vehicles were assigned to and what that person’s position was — were not provided.

Mayfield said the request was likely overlooked because his office has been busy.

“A lot of times because we are just busy, it was probably something that just keeps getting put on hold,” he said.

Repeated requests for the information this week were likely unanswered because the office’s inventory clerk, Maj. Billy Neely, is on vacation, Mayfield said.

City and county elected leaders admit that their accounting processes for government-owned vehicles are flawed and need attention.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown and several aldermen admitted they had never seen a list of the city’s vehicle inventory.

“This certainly warrants looking into this from a fleet management standpoint,” Alderman Dan Dillard said. “We need to have a way of managing this fleet and knowing the use and purpose of each vehicle.”

Largest fleets

The department with the greatest number of vehicles in the area is the Adams County Sheriff’s Office, which reports 45 total units of transportation.