County staff and commissioners travel for a variety of reasons including training and to attend conferences, said Jim Pehrson, county finance director.
The update of the travel policy, originally approved in 1985, tightens requirements for receiving reimbursement by mandating reasons for travel or meals be clearly spelled out.
Commissioners will consider the update at their meeting at 9 a.m. today at 100 Cherokee St.
Pehrson says the update was requested by his department to bring the policy up to date.
Some provisions will be more restrictive, if the commission approves the changes. More extensive explanations of the need for travel are required under the update and the new policy includes a section on airline baggage fees, which won’t be covered if an employee is out of town for just one night.
Employees must also submit an itinerary
for trips, so that if meals are provided during an event the county does not also pay for that expense.
But daily cash allowances are increasing.
When the policy was passed, county employees were allowed a $30 per diem, an allowance given for meals.
Under the new plan, that number would jump to $52 each day split between a $10 allowance for breakfast, $18 for lunch and $24 for dinner.
County employees, excluding the Board of Commissioners, have spent a total of $594,850 since last October when Cobb’s fiscal year began. That number includes other elected officials like the sheriff, district attorney and tax commissioner.
Commissioners are given the option to submit receipts for every purchase and keep track of mileage traveled while conducting county business for reimbursement or receive a $600 monthly allowance.
That allowance is not in question.
JoAnn Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb, thinks $600 each month is adequate. She’s spent a total of $6,151 since October on travel and says much of that stems from trainings sponsored by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia and her duties as vice chairman of the association’s revenue and finance committee, which requires her to attend meetings in Atlanta.
Then there are out of town events, she said, like the association’s annual conference each year in Savannah.
Birrell said she makes an effort to save the county money by staying with family.
“With the way we’ve had to make cuts and reduce our spending, I think it’s fine where it is. I don’t think it’s too much with the wear and tear you put on your car and gas prices where they are. I don’t think we’re overcompensating,” Birrell said. “I’d rather be out of pocket on my own than use county money if there is a gap there.”
On the Board of Commissioners, it’s Chairman Tim Lee who has spent the most cash, more than $14,000, since last October, the beginning of the county’s fiscal year.
As chairman, Lee is the county’s only full-time commissioner.
Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents southwest Cobb, comes in second for having spent the most cash since January. Spending a total of $8,909, the majority of Cupid’s expenses are categorized under business-related expenses. None of that money has been spent for training, though $1,625 has been for registration expenses.
Cupid and Lee did not return phone messages Monday afternoon seeking comment.
The most frugal spender on the commission is Bob Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, having spent no money on training or registration.
“Initially, I had cut my travel allowance in half from $600 to $300 a month when times were tough,” Ott said.
Now, he’s back to using his $600 allowance but says he will pay for anything beyond that out of pocket.
“I just thought that the $600 is enough,” Ott said.