Top officials reimbursed $20,000 Commissioners say amount shows they are 'quite frugal'

'This looks very good'

But their payments exceed those of Howard, Balto. Co.

February 16, 1997|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Carroll County government Pub Date: 2/16/97 SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners -- which takes pride in being stingy with public funds -- was reimbursed $20,000 in personal expenses last year.

Although commissioners are often a scourge when it comes to other expenses in the county budget, they find nothing extravagant about their own costs and offer no apologies for them.

"I think this looks very good," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said when shown a chart of the three commissioners' expense reimbursements last week.

"But when it appears in the newspaper, it will be fuel for some people to say, 'Why are they spending that much money on themselves?' " Brown said. "Yet when compared with what other governments spend, we are quite frugal."

But reimbursements to Carroll's commissioners are on average higher than those of County Council members in neighboring Howard and Baltimore counties.

The Howard County Council adopted spending limits of $4,800 a year within Maryland and $1,200 a year outside Maryland for the fiscal year that began July 1 after members waged a bitter, partisan fight over spending allowances last spring.

Howard council members can be reimbursed for car phone use, mileage, economic development trips, conventions, meals and lodging as long as the combined reimbursement for themselves and their staff does not exceed the ceiling.

In Baltimore County, council members may use their own cars and be reimbursed at the Internal Revenue Service rate of 31.5 cents per mile or have use of a county vehicle. Members are reimbursed for hotel and meal expenses in-state but do not attend out-of-state conventions, said Thomas J. Peddicord Jr., council secretary. No member's personal expense reimbursement request "even approaches $4,800 a year," Peddicord said.

County-owned car

Carroll's commissioners may use a county-owned car when making trips. But they have to go to Westminster to get it.

For Commissioner Richard T. Yates, the commissioners' representative to the Maryland Association of Counties, that's a problem.

Yates, who lives in Eldersburg, drives to Annapolis for association meetings every week when the General Assembly is in session and goes there once a month the rest of the year.

"Whenever I can, I use the county car," Yates said. "But if I'm going to Annapolis in the morning, I'd rather go from home. It's a 36-mile round trip to Westminster."

Half of the $8,367.75 reimbursed Yates in 1996 was for mileage -- $2,484.50 for business trips and $1,705.50 for round trips to the office from home.

The commuter mileage reimbursement -- 25 cents a mile, less five miles a day -- is a vestige of the days when the commissioners served without pay. They're paid $32,500 a year now.

Brown, who was not eligible for commuter mileage reimbursement when he lived in Westminster, has not claimed it since moving to Frizzelburg, he said, because he has to drive to work anyway.

$12 a day

A second vestige from the days of no pay is that the commissioners receive $12 for each day on the job.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell had the greatest number of duty days -- 256 -- and hence the highest total per diem payment, $3,072.

Brown, who was away nearly a month while recuperating from a quadruple bypass operation, had the least, 207, for a total per diem payment of $2,484.

All three commissioners attended the Ocean City summer session and the Solomon's Island winter session of the Maryland Association of Counties at a total cost of $3,264.55.

Dell also spent $295 to attend the National Association of Counties Meeting in Washington, $395 to attend a governing infrastructure conference in Chicago, and $500 to attend a series of leadership development seminars sponsored by the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce.

Much of the $349.50 Dell spent on breakfasts and luncheons was to attend chamber functions. Likewise, most of the $298.14 Brown spent on meals was at chamber luncheons and breakfasts.

Lunch with Dixon

All three commissioners have American Express credit cards. The largest charge was $62.69 for a lunch Yates had with state Treasurer Richard N. Dixon in Annapolis.

Dixon, a Carroll County resident, is a member of the powerful state Board of Public Works. The three-member board decides which counties get state school funding and in what amounts.

There are no ceilings on reimbursement for Carroll commissioners, and they don't see a need for one. They sign off on one another's reimbursement requests, but they don't monitor them.

They do, however, monitor office expenses -- and to such an extent that their behavior appears more than frugal.

"People don't realize how stingy we are," said Dell.

The general public doesn't know, perhaps, but county employees and people such as Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger know.

When the commissioners talked about dropping out of the Maryland Association of Counties to save on dues a while back, "Dutch snidely offered to pay the dues," Brown said.

Ruppersberger is a former association president.

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