Curry County is not even four months into its fiscal year and already the commissioner’s office travel budget is shot.
County Administrator Clark Schroeder told the board Wednesday that Commissioner Court Boice has again overspent the department’s travel budget for the entire fiscal year — and without a budget adjustment, the county’s representation at the Association of Oregon Counties (AOC) conference is uncertain.
The board, however, voted to wait until its Nov. 7 meeting to allow credit card receipts to post before deciding if they will supplement this fiscal year’s budget.
The AOC conference in Eugene is Nov. 13-15.
Last summer, Boice run afoul of the county’s travel policy, which prohibits commissioners from using a county vehicle to travel within the county and requires board permission to travel outside. Each commissioner is limited to $1,500 a year in expenses.
Last year, Boice overspent the budget by $5,500 traveling throughout the county to address issues related to the Chetco Bar megafire, which ultimately burned 197,125 acres, several structures and came within 5 miles of Brookings.
Boice has already pleaded not guilty in circuit court to a charge of violating the travel policy, and his fellow commissioners are pursuing the matter in small claims court to recoup the money Boice admits he overspent.
But Boice said he is done paying for work-related travel out of his pocket and will wait to see what the board decides as to whether he even attends the conference.
Schroeder said Boice submitted paperwork indicating he traveled to North Bend, Salem and Coos Bay for meetings, racking up 2,601 miles in September. At 43 cents per mile, that comes to $1,118, Schroeder noted.
If county commissioners stick to their decision to have two commissioners attend the AOC conference, they will need to adopt a supplemental budget item — or possibly forego the meeting, he said.
The AOC represents Oregon’s 36 counties at the state level. Boice — who is on the AOC board — said talking with other elected officials via phone or Skype doesn’t have the same impact as being with them in person.
According to Schroeder, in the first two months of fiscal year 2018-29, the commissioner’s travel budget had been charged $1,549 — and that’s before the AOC conference and the $1,108 bill Boice just submitted for September’s travel expenses.
Schroeder estimates the AOC conference will cost $1,845, with the county spending $910 for the commission-elect to attend, another $475 for Boice to attend, $300 for hotels, $160 for travel and leaving a balance of $1,106 in the travel budget.
“Now we have a new bill, for $1,118, which leaves us with a negative $12 balance until June 30,” Schroeder said. “Also (there’s been) some travel since September; there’s probably another few hundred in there.”
He noted the board is “technically not over budget,” because it has merely approved, but not yet spent, the money to attend the AOC conference.
“But we can’t accumulate more costs when we have exceeded it already,” Schroeder said. “This is what got us in trouble in the 2017-18 fiscal year, with the $5,513 Commissioner Boice owes.”
He said it is unrealistic to think county commissioners won’t need to travel in the months until the fiscal year ends June 30.
“You need to adjust the budget to accommodate more travel or figure something out,” Schroeder said.
Commissioner Thomas Huxley suggested the board wait until the end of the month to give credit card statements and other documents time to wend their way through the system to determine how much is left in the budget.
Commissioner Sue Gold agreed, noting a few trips to Coos Bay and Salem shouldn’t have accumulated so much mileage.
Boice, however, defended the trips.
“My choices are pay my own way or disregard important county business,” Boice said. “It’s a heck of a decision for me to make.”
He said he has paid $37,000 out of his own pocket — including his voluntary pay cut of about $20,000 and meals he doesn’t charge the county — and is hesitant to pay any more because he fears he won’t be reimbursed.
“With county business, there is only a limited number of things I can do by phone,” Boice said. “I think it’s a huge mistake, and I want people to know. Apparently, I haven’t impacted you to any level about why (the travel) is legitimate and wise. The amount of travel I do is very important, and I’m doing it for all three of you because you two don’t travel outside the county. Another sad day.”
Gold said the problem isn’t that the AOC meeting isn’t important but, “we never get any documentation,” of expenses.
“I am more than happy to (approve budget) increases as long as they can be documented and justified,” she said. “There’s been no sales receipts for any of that.”
Another budget change
Commissioners also debated whether to approve a budget amendment for $2,000 to get Brandt Media through the last two months of the calendar year.
The company records and streams county commissioner meetings and provides other audio-visual needs. It operates on a per-minute billing system, and this year’s annual contract is limited to $19,900.
Gold said the issue is due to Brandt operating on a regular calendar basis while the county’s fiscal year begins July 1 of every year, and that carrying money over should be a wash,
“Hence the discrepancy,” she said.
The company also requests an additional $800 to install a transmission device to strengthen signals; the board will likely delay that until January when a new contract goes into effect.
Reach Jane Stebbins at firstname.lastname@example.org .