County details new employee travel reimbursement policy

SHEILA A. MATHEWS :::

The Spalding County Board of Commissioners has reached consensuses on several aspects that will be included in an employee travel policy.

This policy will implement guidelines and restrictions regarding reimbursable expenses, which until now, has not been enforceable.

Commissioner Bart Miller said during his years of county employment, he was told reimbursement for meals was capped at $30 daily. However, County Manager William Wilson said that was not an official policy.

“Technically, there was no dollar amount written in the policy. We used to tell everyone it was $30 a day, but there was no way to enforce that limit,” Wilson said.

Wilson went on to say that it was not uncommon for employees undergoing out-of-town training to return with expense reports indicating they had dined at Longhorn Steakhouse for lunch and Red Lobster for supper, nor was it atypical to see large gratuities included in the employees’ requests for reimbursement.

“I just find it a little hard to believe they would be dining  like that if they were paying for it themselves,” Wilson said.

It was determined that there would not be dual policies for commissioners and other employees, but rather one policy covering all.

“I would vote for one policy across the board,” Commissioner Raymond Ray said. “If it’s good enough for us, it’s good enough for everyone and vice versa.”

Commissioner Gwen Flowers-Taylor proposed that the county cease reimbursing employees for gratuities, citing that as a personal option.

“If you want to tip someone, tip them,” she said.

Flowers-Taylor also said the per diem meal policy should take into consideration the fact that training conferences often provide meals.

“I have never been to one where they didn’t,” she said, adding that taxpayers should not shoulder additional unnecessary costs. “It may not be what you want, but it’s a meal.”

Wilson did point out that travel training expenses have not been as high in recent years as they were previously.

“Training and travel is the first thing cut during hard budget times, so for the last five years, there hasn’t been that much,” Wilson said. “Our travel and training budget is significantly less than in past years.”

He then estimated recent years’ expenses at approximately $40,000, with at least half that total being used by county commissioners. “In years past, it was at least double that amount.”

Flowers-Taylor said she would like to see an increased level of employee training, particularly cultural and sensitivity training, which she cited as a “major source of lawsuits.”

“We can’t say we trained our folks any better than to do stupid stuff,” she said.

The commissioners final consensuses included that all paperwork must be turned in to the county finance department within five business days following the travel; a per diem meal reimbursement totaling $60 – $12 for breakfast, $18 for lunch and $30 for supper; no reimbursement for gratuities; and hotel costs will only be reimbursed for training that takes place 35 driving miles or more from the County Annex unless the event begins before 8 a.m.

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