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Galt, Lodi city councils face questions on travel, stipend cash

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Posted: Monday, June 1, 2009 10:00 pm

With money left over in the Galt City Council's travel funds, three members are finding ways to spend it before the fiscal year ends on June 30.

Two of them want to use the money to help ship packages to troops overseas. Another would like to use the money for a sign to let citizens know about community events.

At the same time, the Lodi City Council has faced criticism from unions and a member of the city's Budget and Finance Committee because it is asking the city's unions to make concessions, while still collecting $10,322 a year in pay as council members.

So in this economic downturn, how much should elected officials earn in stipends and travel expenses, and how should they spend it?

In Galt, Councilmen Andrew Meredith and Donald Haines are using part of their leftover travel money to assist military families.

At the April 22 council meeting, Meredith and Haines said they wanted to use their remaining travel funds to allow the public to ship packages to overseas troops.

"The spouses of the deployed overseas are trying to make ends meet," Meredith said. "This is one less thing to pay for."

Tonight's Galt meeting at a glance

Issue: The Galt City Council will be asked to allow Councilwoman Barbara Payne to allocate the remaining $2,788 in her travel account to sponsor an event sign at Galt Community Park to let people on the eastside know about activities throughout Galt.

Also, Councilmen Andrew Meredith and Donald Haines will announce how to ship a package to troops overseas after they allocated their travel money to this project at an April meeting

When and where: 7 p.m. tonight, City Hall Council Chambers, 380 Civic Drive, Galt.

Meredith, who originally proposed the idea, will donate $1,234, and Haines will be giving $1,288. The council as a whole has $17,000 to spend for travel, and the unofficial breakdown is $3,000 per council member and $5,000 for the mayor.

The project was temporarily put on hold until City Attorney Steve Rudolph could make sure Galt could make the donation because of restrictions with giving public funds.

"There needs to be some benefit to the taxpayers of Galt … Care packages to soldiers in Iraq is a little more removed, but courts have held that this type of activity has public use," Rudolph said.

Councilman says Galt can afford it

After saving money on travel all year, Meredith wanted to use the remainder for projects that normally would not be funded. With sales tax increasing in Galt and the city's budget in the black, he said the city can afford to do these type of projects because it is not in as bad of shape as some other Central Valley cities.

But Councilwoman Barbara Payne questioned whether sending packages to troops could be accomplished with a non-profit organization instead of using city funds.

"We have limited resources," she said. "And we have to think of what is the best way to use the money we have, or if we can get the money someplace else."

At the same time, she is asking the council at its meeting tonight to allocate the remaining $2,788 in her travel account to sponsor an event sign at Galt Community Park to let people on the eastside know about activities throughout Galt.

Expenses at a glance

Here are the Lodi City Council members expenses for fiscal year 2008-09:

Larry Hansen
$864.59 in mileage to attend regional meetings.
$564 for lodging at the Silverado Resort in Napa for the Northern California Power Association conference
$245.20 for plane ticket to Salt Lake City to attend the American Public Power Association's national conference
$40 for LOEL Honors banquet
$25 for annual tourism luncheon for Visit Lodi!
$25 for Chamber of Commerce State of the City luncheon
Total: $1,763.79

JoAnne Mounce
$173.45 for mileage
$525 for registration with the League of California Cities for the New Mayors and Council Members Academy
$500 for registration at the Mayors and Council Members Executive Forum
$295 for registration at the Mayors and Council Members Advanced Workshop
$179.73 for a hotel room for the Mayors and Council Members meeting
$53.75 for League of California Cities quarterly meeting
$334.05 for League of California Cities leadership workshop
$126.49 for a League of California Cities meeting in Chowchilla
$50 for dinner at the One Eighty Teen Center
Total: $2,237.47

Phil Katzakian
$525 for registration with the League of California Cities for the New Mayors and Council Members Academy
$78.50 for mileage to the conference
Total: $603.50

Bob Johnson
$306.90 for mileage
$177.75 for mileage and business expenses, including tickets to a LOEL Center fundraiser
$25 for Chamber of Commerce State of the City luncheon
Total: $509.63

Susan Hitchcock
$125 to attend the Lodi Boys and Girls Club annual dinner
$25 for St. Anne's anniversary dinner
$25 for Chamber of Commerce State of the City luncheon
Total: $175

Here are the Galt City Council members expenses for 2008-2009:

Andrew Meredith
$786.63 for lodging at the National League of Cities conference in Washington, D.C.
$430 to register for the conference
$420.40 for transportation to Washington, D.C.
$129 for other expenses at the conference
Total: $1,766.03

Darryl Clare
$1,520 for D.C. conference registration fees
$101 in other expenses while in D.C.
$39.60 in airport mileage
$918.86 in mileage to attend regional meetings.
$153.50 in parking to attend regional meetings
Total: $2,732.96

Donald Haines
$10 for lunch at the Forum for Central Valley Leaders
$870.63 for lodging at the National League of Cities trip in Washington, D.C.
$430 to register for the conference
$272.40 for transportation while in Washington, D.C.
$129 in other expenses while in D.C.
Total: $1,712.03

Randy Shelton (did not start on the council until December 2008)
$7.50 for parking at a Criminal Justice Cabinet meeting
Total: $7.50

Barbara Payne
$44 in lunches with the Galt Chamber of Commerce
$75 to register for the State of the County luncheon
$15 to park at the luncheon
$28.50 for parking at the League of California legislative days
$49.13 in lunch with the Cosumnes Community Services District
Total: $211.63

"My reason for wanting to do the same thing I criticized them for is, it is part of my Shop Local campaign to get people on the eastside to participate more," she said. "This is part of our own economic development plan."

The community board could be used to increase General Fund revenue, she said, because it could increase sales tax if people start buying from local stores.

It would be hard to find another source of money from non-profits or other businesses to install a sign, she said.

Mayor Randy Shelton expects a conversation tonight about how travel funds should be used.

Previously, every council member had $5,000 in a discretionary money to pay for projects they wanted to fund in the community.

"It does make me wonder. Do we have travel? Yes. Do we have discretionary funds? No."

As far as whether it is beneficial for the council to travel, Meredith and Councilman Darryl Clare both mentioned the advantages the city of Galt receives from being members of the regional organizations.

Going to Washington, D.C. has helped Galt secure $8 million in funding, Clare said.

"That's a heck of a return on the $1,600 cost of going back there," he said.

Clare has spent $2,733 on the D.C. trip and attending more than 20 meetings, with a majority being Sacramento County of Governments meetings.

Meredith went to a conference in D.C. and said it is important for Galt to see what is happening in other cities. The discount prescription drug card program recently started because of Galt's involvement with the National League of Cities, Meredith said.

But because there was money left in all of the council members' travel accounts, Meredith said, the city might look into decreasing the travel budget for next year.

Lodi's council cannot make charitable donations from the travel budget because the council passed a resolution in 2007 restricting what is considered reimbursable travel.

Other expenses not allowed include entertainment expenses like tickets to sporting events or golf-related fees, and non-mileage personal automobile expenses like repairs and traffic tickets.

But the council is allowed to expense tickets to non-profit events.

"Part of their role as a public official is representing the city at these events," city spokesman Jeff Hood said.

Lodi's budget shortfall

As Lodi cuts its budget across the board, travel expenses and the council's $860-a-month stipend have become an issue for bargaining groups who are negotiating with the city on how to cut hundreds of thousands of dollars in personnel expenses.

When unions are in negotiations with city staff, they want to know that the people at the top, including executive management like City Manager Blair King and the council, are giving something up, said Peter Iturraran, president of the Lodi Professional Firefighters.

"It's actually very frustrating," he said. "They don't want to stop any of their conferences and what they are doing at the conferences, and I'm sure it is important. But I'm sure everyone in the city feels their job is important."

He would like to see the city cut travel expenses and the council stipend, even as some say it would be a purely symbolic gesture.

"Maybe it is symbolic, but it eases bargaining groups and makes it easier for us to cut, as well," Iturraran said.

During the last round of cuts, it helped Iturraran when he went back to his union members to say that King and other top managers were taking a furlough day and cutting the city's contribution to their retirement.

John Johnson, a member of the city's budget and finance committee and a News-Sentinel columnist, said that if the council was truly cutting across the board, it would cut some of its own salary.

In a recent column, he suggested the council go back to $500 per month until the city's property and sales taxes increase. Johnson then said the council's salary should go up by the percentage increase in those two taxes, according to limits set by law. He is not related to Councilman Bob Johnson.

Councilwoman Susan Hitchcock said that the council has already been cutting back on travel to save the city money. She only spent $175 this past year. Council members receive a $2,900 allocation per year, while the mayor receives $3,400.

She said she would not be in favor of decreasing the stipend, which increased 72 percent in November 2008, because it would be hard for council members to increase it again when the economy improved.

"Travel expenses is a good place to cut back in, and is more significant than a 10 percent decrease in our salaries," she said.

Mayor Larry Hansen said he will hold his comments until the issue is discussed at a council meeting. He has spent $1,764 on travel, with a large chunk of that on mileage to attend regional meetings.

A $360-a-month raise

While he is not adverse to some cuts, Councilman Bob Johnson still believes that increasing the council's salary from $500 a month to more than $800 was long overdue. It had been 18 years since the council had a pay increase.

He does not know what would be the best way to cut council benefits, which include $61,110 for insurance benefits and a city match to the council's retirement funds. With the bargaining groups, Johnson knows they are cutting from a variety of benefits, including uniform allowances and the city's match to retirement accounts. He said a cut in conference expenses would make sense. He used $510 in travel expenses this fiscal year.

"The question is how and how much … There are different ways at arriving at a dollar amount," Johnson said.

After being the lone vote against the council pay increase, Councilwoman JoAnne Mounce said the council should go back to $500 a month.

"When we got elected, we knew this would be what we were making," Mounce said. "Unfortunately, the most important piece is, we need to lead by example. We are asking our employees to take a cut in pay. We need to as well."

But Mounce is not in favor of cutting travel expenses, because some council members are appointed to represent the city. She has spent $2,237 on travel this year, with most going toward League of California Cities trips. She was recently elected the president of the Central Valley Division of the league.

"It's important because of the information we get back. We have a tremendous voice in Sacramento," she said.

In Galt, the council only receives $300 in a monthly stipend, which Payne said she would be willing to give up.

If Shelton were to calculate the number of hours he worked a month, he imagines the stipend comes out to about 10 cents an hour, he joked.

"When you are a volunteer and an elected official, you give a lot," Shelton said.

The $300 does not make up for the missed time at work or the amount of overtime Meredith misses out on. But even if given the option, Meredith said that he would not take a pay raise.

"It's not something we do for the money," he said. "It would just get you closer to breaking even."

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com or read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blog/citybuzz.

This story was updated at 9 a.m. Tuesday, June 2 to clarify that Andrew Meredith's expenses included travel to Washington D.C. for a National League of Cities conference and that the discount prescription card program came from the city's involvement with the national league.

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13 comments:

  • posted at 6:06 pm on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    IllegalnLodi: "Someone please tell us how they are docked for that day of wages they forfeit when they are salaried employees, or are these employees just allowed to use a day of vacation or sick leave and merely afforded another much needed day off?"I'm a salaried city employee and my pay get's reduced by 8 hours 1 x per month. We are paid for 72 hrs instead of 80 for that pay period. We are not allowed to use leave hours, even if that week is part of a vacation. Hope that clears it up for you.

     
  • posted at 7:29 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    Hitchcock...$125.00 for Boys & Girls club. Who runs the Boy's & Girl's club?Who is the President of the School Board (LUSD)? Is Hitchcock an administrator with L.U.S.D.? Is she also a City counsel member?

     
  • posted at 5:50 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    Just why is the mayor of Lodi attending these Northern California Power Assn. and American Public Power Assn. conferences? Isn't that what you pay your Lodi Electric Utility District manager-director for? Maybe your mayor could just assume that position, too? But the, isn't he the one who put your utility nearly $200,000,000 into debt? I don't think I'd want him attending any meetings with a track record such as that.

     
  • posted at 5:27 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    Payne is a pain! I don't think this person has the ability to even think of others like the troops. As long as she gets her sign... I know a sign for her that she can wear...

     
  • posted at 4:12 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    And hasn't the city manager attained a $20,000 raise and his secretary, the city clerk $5,000 within the last two years while everyone else was talking pay cuts? And are positions like the city manager, city clerk, department heads and anyone on salary actually just taking that day off? Someone please tell us how they are docked for that day of wages they forfeit when they are salaried employees, or are these employees just allowed to use a day of vacation or sick leave and merely afforded another much needed day off? There's another worse round of budget cuts and foreclosures coming and your city leaders need to set the example and take the first cuts. As is very common knowledge, most of these city leaders and management are pretty well off and have never seen any real hard times.

     
  • posted at 4:04 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    samom, how about the funding to the wine & visitors center? Why should the taxpayers that $125,000 or so annually when it's basic function is to promote the local wineries? It's time they fund themselves, too.

     
  • posted at 4:02 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    lodidian, excellent points! I was wondering, myself, why they received "benefits"

     
  • posted at 4:00 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    Why is mayor Hansen using city travel expense money to attend any NCPA meetings or functions? I thought that was his personal little agenda and I'm expecting that as their board chairman that the NCPA iscovering his expenses and not the city Of Lodi.

     
  • posted at 3:41 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    I vote for using the money to help ship packages to troops overseas.

     
  • posted at 3:38 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    It seems to me, Lodi city council members are "volunteers" AND elected officials. I can't understand why the city pays for their health care and contributes to retirment.What other part time job pays health care and retirment benefits?While I am not an elected official,I volunteer a good amount of my time and pay ALL of my own travel expenses when I volunteer. The city council should consider eliminating the healthcare and retirement benefits along with the reduction in salary.As elected officials, they should never have to pay any out of pocket expense, while conduction city business, however, they should not be paid for time they agreed to volunteer.Travel to conference and ticket fees for participation in local events are usually valid expenses. City officials should travel and participate at approved venues. However, travel does not need to be a budget item. Travel could be paid out of the general fund with prior approval of the mayor and city manager. This adds a little more accountability and may prevent waste.

     
  • posted at 3:09 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    The Lodi Council members absolutely cut back. They ask the employees to cut back and then go and approve the fireworks display ...which I know some people say "it is only $16k", but what about the overtime for the police dept? There are hidden expenses that are huge. and how about them approving the Grape Bowl project, or giving to the DLBP a private business. How many other Lodi businesses would like the City to give thousands a year? Please!!! I am sure City employees are very frustrated with our council. All in all....they should take a hit too, then maybe they would think differently about giving away so much...

     
  • posted at 2:49 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    So Payne thinks a sign for a park for another one of her pet projects is more important than the soldiers protecting our country? What is this woman thinking? She chastised two fellow Councilmembers for offer to help the troops families with their remaining travel funds, then wants to use hers for a stupid sign in the next sentence. How did this woman ever get elected?

     
  • posted at 2:37 am on Tue, Jun 2, 2009.

    Posts:

    So Payne thinks a sign for a park for another one of her pet projects is more important than the soldiers protecting our country? What is this woman thinking? She chastised two fellow Councilmembers for offer to help the troops families with their remaining travel funds, then wants to use hers for a stupid sign in the next sentence. How did this woman ever get elected?

     

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