Will Co. looks at revising its travel policy
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org June 16, 2014 10:36PM
Will County plans to send Curt Paddock, director of the county land use department, to China this year. | File photo
Updated: July 18, 2014 6:02AM
Fresh from their trip to Washington D.C., with plans to attend a conference in New Orleans, Will County officials may revise a travel policy regarding reimbursements for such expenses.
Trips to Washington and to the annual conference of the National Association of Counties (NACo) are the two largest travel expenses for county board members and staff, said Bruce Friefeld, chief of staff, who approves such reimbursements.
At recent legislative and policy committee meetings, he discussed a policy revision that would require reimbursements to be approved in advance by the county board speaker or the chairmen of the Republican or Democratic caucuses.
“This gives responsibility to the leaders. They are the best to judge,” Friefeld.
He said he would present a revision for the committees to mull over the summer and bring it to the full board after the November election so new board members could vote on it.
The policy now states that allowable expenses — registration, transportation, lodging, meals, tips, reference materials and business calls — are reimbursed “within budgetary constraints.” The proposed revision also provides that “no reimbursement shall be paid if there is no appropriation or existing fund balance at any time in any given fiscal year.”
“When money runs out, it’s gone,” Friefeld said.
With the upcoming trip to NACo’s conference in July in New Orleans, the travel funds will be depleted, according to county officials.
It cost the county nearly $9,800 to send 10 people to Washington for two nights and three days. The cost of the NACo conference has yet to be determined, but registration was a minimum of $515 per person for members who registered by May 30.
To date, the county has spent $27,000 on travel and has $13,000 left in its budget, according to a report by Melissa Johannsen, deputy chief of staff.
“With NACo you will be overbudget. The money has to come from someplace else. There is no surplus fund. If you exceed the ($40,000 budget), something else will suffer,” Johannsen told the committee.
The county also plans to send Curt Paddock, director of the county land use department, to China this year.
“We are very frugal when spending money on travel. A lot of people pay their own way,” Friefeld said, adding that the $40,000 budget amount has not been raised in years.
Reimbursements showed that the county paid for airfare, hotels, transportation to and from the airport and cab fares and nominal meal expenses for its 10 staff and board members who went to Washington in April. Many members did not seek reimbursement for meals, even though the current county policy allows for meal expenses up to $58 per day in “high cost destinations” such as the nation’s capital.
Nick Palmer, chief of staff for County Executive Larry Walsh, was reimbursed $1,013 for airfare, baggage and hotel expenses but paid for his meals, records show.
Representing the county forest preserve district were director Marcy DeMauro and district board president Don Gould, R-Shorewood, whose total expenses were $2,103, according to records. They indicate that Friefeld and six county board members spent $6,668, including $3,631 for hotels, $2,065 for airfare and $972 for transportation.
While acknowledging that travel expenses are a “sensitive issue,” Palmer said a trip to Washington is “valuable.” While there, they “advocate for millions of dollars” for local projects, he said.
“It’s a competitive market,” Palmer said. “There is more interest in Will County now than there used to be. They recognize us as a player in the region. We are in a unique location. That makes us an economic player.”
While in Washington, the Will County delegation visited with U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, U.S. Reps. Bobby Rush, Robin Kelly, Dan Lipinski, Bill Foster, Randy Hultgran and Adam Kinzinger and officials of the Federal Highway Administration, Department of Agriculture, Army Corps of Engineers and Justice Department.
Palmer expects that Paddock’s upcoming trip to China may cause some controversy, but said the county will pay only for his $1,500 airfare. He’s being invited as part of an exchange program with the 21st Century Institute, a nonprofit institute that has brought Chinese delegations to the U.S. and sends government, business and academic leaders to China to exchange expertise and knowledge, Palmer said.
Through the intermodal centers in Will County, a total of 110 million bushels of corn and soybeans are exported, and the county wants to expand that to more global markets, he said.