Fulton County commissioners have temporarily banned some employee travel and training and decided to not seek mileage reimbursements for themselves as the board looks for ways to cut costs.
Commissioners also have asked interim County Manager David Ware for recommendations on permanent revisions to county travel and training policies, with an eye toward saving money. The moves come a month after Ware asked commissioners to consider steep cuts to libraries, senior services and other popular programs to close a projected $114 million budget gap by the beginning of next year.
Commissioner Robb Pitts, who proposed the moratorium on travel and training, said it’s unclear how much money it will save. The county spent about $363,000 in travel and training in the first six months of this year —that’s down a third from the $531,809 spent during the same period in 2012, according to a recent report.
“We’re going to have to look at every nook and cranny for every penny we can find,” Pitts said. “We shouldn’t spend a dime on anything that’s not absolutely necessary.”
By a 4-0 vote, the commission last week prohibited spending on travel and training by employees or elected officials. The ban applies to conferences and other discretionary travel, but not to mandatory travel that’s a routine part of an employee’s job. It also doesn’t apply to employee training needed to maintain certifications or licenses that are a minimum qualification for their jobs.
The commissioners also voted to not seek mileage reimbursements and to encourage other elected officials to abide by the temporary ban. And they directed Ware to recommend changes to county travel policies, including a permanent prohibition on mileage reimbursements for commissioners for travel within Fulton County.
Meeting with local constituents is a basic part of a commissioners job, and “it is inappropriate for members of the Board of commissioners to receive mileage reimbursement for travel within Fulton County,” according to the resolution, sponsored by Commissioner Emma Darnell.
Fulton spending on travel and training in the first six months of this year was down about a third from the $531,809 spent during the same period in 2012, according to a recent report. But as they contemplate cuts to public services later this year, commissioners appear eager to trim elsewhere first.
“The moratorium is one way for us to save money,” Pitts said. “We’re going to need every penny we can get our hands on to come close to balancing the budget for next year.”
Jim Honkisz, interim president of the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation, said the travel policy changes are long overdue. He thinks commissioners could go even further, perhaps eliminating all mileage reimbursements for employees as well as commissioners.
Not everyone is a fan of the moratorium. Commission Chairman John Eaves said Pitts’ resolution smacks of “personal politics.” Eaves’ office spent $10,558 on travel and training in the first six months of this year, while Pitts – who may run for Eaves’ job in next year’s election – spent none.
Eaves received an invitation from President Barack Obama to attend a White House reception Tuesday recognizing the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. He’s paying nearly $1,000 out of his own pocket to attend the event.
Eaves said the county’s travel policy should be amended, but perhaps a better approach is adopting the federal government practice of requiring employees to get a government rate for hotels and airfare. He’d also like to explore centralizing travel arrangements in-house or with a travel agent, instead of allowing employees to arrange their own travel.
“If we really want to come up with some cost savings, let’s look at broader measures,” Eaves said.
The moratorium will remain in place until the commission approves new permanent policies.