Landis board member questions travel expenses

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 5, 2016

LANDIS — A travel policy for elected officials could have saved the town of Landis more than $4,000 at last year’s ElectriCities conference, Mayor Pro Tem Dorland Abernathy says.

Currently, the town has few guidelines in place for travel and reimbursement for meetings, and no official policies.

“Whatever the members want to do, they do; whatever they submit for reimbursement, they are reimbursed; whatever they think the practice should be, it is,” Abernathy said at the board’s meeting Monday.

Abernathy proposed a new travel policy at the meeting, saying that implementing a few simple guidelines would not only save the town and the taxpayers money, but it would also promote transparency and accountability between the board and the town.

“Whatever the mayor, or whatever a board member puts on a reimbursement form and turns in to the city clerk, or to our chief financial officer, is what’s reimbursed. They work at the pleasure of the board, so whatever the members tell them to do, that’s their job description for the month,” Abernathy said.

Having policies such as providing reimbursement only for travel and lodging expenses one day prior to the beginning of an event and travel expenses for the day following the event, and only covering expenses for days in which representatives attend the meetings they were sent to attend, would have saved the town $4,674.43 just during the ElectriCities conference at Myrtle Beach, S.C., Abernathy said.

Even something as simple as clarifying whether a board member received meeting pay for meetings attended or for days away from the house would have saved the town an estimated $500, he said.

“At the ElectriCities conference some of our representatives attended two days of meetings in a three-day conference and yet requested meeting pay for seven days,” Abernathy alleged.

Abernathy also encouraged a policy to be set regarding a meal allowance while away on business. During the ElectriCities conference, Abernathy claimed that individual meal reimbursement requests ranged from $4.84 to $87.08.

“If you send us, we need to go representing you, not counting this as our family vacation for the year,” he said.

The proposed policy also asks that the IRS mileage rate be used for all vehicle expenses, excluding parking and tolls.

“Some purchase gas on the town’s credit card and still submit a request for the full mileage reimbursement — that’s double dipping,” Abernathy said.

The policy Abernathy proposed would require elected officials to turn in all travel forms as soon as a trip has ended, then wait 30 days before reimbursement. It would also require elected officials to report back to the town about the meetings they attended.

“If you send us on a trip, you ought to know why we went and what we got out of it,” he said.

As the matter was a discussion item, Mayor Mike Mahaley said that the board would not take any action on the proposed policy this month and would bring it back for review at the Feb. 1 meeting. In the meantime, he said, they would work to hammer out some specifics for a meal allowance and other matters.

“We’ll try to have a policy to present at the next meeting, if not the following meeting,” Mahaley said.

The board also received an update about a proposed new police department. Barbara Walker with BJW Architecture, Inc. presented details about deficiencies the current building possessed, potential locations for a new facility and plans for the building.

“We have talked about a need for a new police department, the board has not taken any action,” Abernathy clarified.

According to the report, the town would need to allot a budget of about $1.5 million for the project. Costs are guided by the USDA Rural Development guidelines.

“This is basically the first that we have heard of this,” Mahaley said.

While the previous board had apparently discussed the possibility of a new station for years, this is the first time the new board — with three brand new members — has had an official rundown of the proposed project.

“We will be talking between ourselves,” he said.

The board also moved to tear down the town’s old hardware building, and discussed returning ownership of the American Legion building to the American Legion. The town has owned the building for several years, under the stipulation that it be used to benefit the community. However, the building is in disrepair and is difficult to rent. But the board is unsure if the legion will want the building back and consulted the town lawyer to see if they could return it anyway.

“I don’t think you can give someone something back unless they want it,” he said.

Alderman Tommy Garver asked if the Legion would even be able to afford the upkeep of the building, should they accept the return.

“I don’t think there’s a happy answer,” Abernathy said.

Mahaley said he would consult with the American Legion and bring the issue back for discussion in February.

Landis is also working on installing an automatic read metering system. Currently, Town Manager Reid Linn says, it takes 10 days to read all of the town’s water and electric meters. The new system would allow every meter in the town to be read within about 30 minutes, and would also allow residents to go online and check their usage.

“It’s a new system, we feel very positive in it,” Linn said.

Mahaley also stated that the board would begin addressing high electricity rates, but that relief from high rates would have to wait until the budget is passed in July.

The Landis Board of Aldermen will next meet on Feb. 1 at 7 p.m. at Landis Town Hall.