Ordinance to reimburse elected officials for mileage rejected by Sunset Hills board

Hardy cites rising cost of gas as reason for proposing bill.

By MIKE ANTHONY

An ordinance proposed by Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy to reimburse Sunset Hills elected officials for mileage was rejected last week by the Board of Aldermen.

Hardy was the sole alderman to vote in favor of the proposal, which sought to reimburse Sunset Hills elected officials the current federal mileage reimbursement rate of 51 cents per mile driven on city business.

“The reason I brought this issue up is I for one, I like to get out and see the issues that are coming before the board and talk with residents about concerns that they have …,” Hardy said, noting he makes such trips on city business “several times” during a month.

“The price of gasoline was around $2.50 at Thanksgiving time and then last week it went up to $3.89, which is about a 56-percent increase in just that short a time. Now I’ve been reading the news and listening to people that speculate that it may be as high as $5 or more by Labor Day,” he said during the April 26 board meeting.

Noting that Sunset Hills employees are reimbursed for miles driven on city business, Hardy said elected officials also should be reimbursed for those same costs.

Ward 4 Alderman Claudia Svoboda said, “I just simply want to say be that as it may, the price of gas being outrageous, this to me is like levying an unseen tax on my constituents and they don’t get to vote on this.”

Hardy said, “I looked through the 2011 budget and citywide we have budgeted approximately $5,000 for mileage reimbursement. Now if we just have nine or 10 elected officials — I don’t think our city collector makes many trips, if any at all — but I don’t think that that is a tremendous amount to add to the city’s expenditures because otherwise we’re bearing the cost of that expense for work that we’re doing for the city.”

Svoboda said, “I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, Frank. I’m just saying that we’re voting on this to benefit ourselves and our constituents don’t get to vote on it.”

Asked if he considered driving from his home to a Board of Aldermen meeting a reimbursable mileage expense, Hardy said that would not qualify for reimbursement because attending board meetings is part of the job responsibilities of an elected official. The reimbursement would apply to such travel as meeting with residents or businesses and traveling within the city to inspect upcoming agenda items, he said.

Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann asked Hardy, “… So you don’t think that going out and checking out things that are on the agenda are part of our job? …”

Hardy interjected, “… Well, I do think they should be reimbursed.”

Hoffmann said, “But you just said that coming to meetings is part of our job and I look at going out and like driving by and seeing how this road’s progressing or if a person has a complaint, I look on that as also part of our job, just like coming to the meetings is part of our job. I don’t see that as any different. It’s all part of our job, in my opinion.”

Hardy said, “… I can’t speak for whatever people do. Some people do get out and do look at things. Other people choose to sit at home and wait for the information to come to them … You’re not required to turn in the reimbursement …”

Ward 4 Alderman Pat Fribis asked, “Do you know if any other cities have this?”

Hardy replied that he did not know, later saying, “I just think that a 56-percent increase is a heck of a lot to take in five months and if it really does end up at $5 a gallon by Labor Day, that’s a hundred-percent increase.”

Ward 3 Alderman Stephen Webb said he had a number of concerns with Hardy’s proposal, including who would review and administer the mileage reimbursements.

“… When decisions like this come before us, we take them very seriously, especially when they have an effect on our budget,” Webb said.

Earlier in the meeting, the board had approved the purchase of a new two-ton truck for the Public Works Department and improvements to the city’s tennis courts.

“In this instance, versus a truck or tennis courts or other types of services that we all would think of, I don’t see how, at least in my mind, this benefits our residents and so I would agree with Alderman Svoboda that we’re essentially asking for a pay raise and we’re also essentially making that decision ourselves,” Webb said, noting the city has dozens of volunteers who serve on various city boards and committees.

“They don’t get paid anything,” he said. “We’re fortunate enough that we do get some form of reimbursement. Who knows whether or not it covers all of expenses or not. But yet we have other individuals who are public servants giving their time and they don’t receive any form of reimbursement. We try to recognize them as best we can. So at least for me, I feel a little bit uncomfortable with this. I don’t support it …”

Aldermen later defeated Hardy’s proposal with a 7-1 vote with Hardy casting the lone vote in favor of the ordinance.