Is Vidalia travel policy needed?

Published 12:18 am Sunday, November 23, 2008

VIDALIA — Vidalia Alderman Jon Betts isn’t against travel for official business.

Instead, he said the reason he recommended the city adopt the state travel policy is because it will set rules for travel pay firmly in place.

“Basically, there are no guidelines (for travel pay),” Betts said. “It is all an unwritten thing, and so there needs to be some kind of guidelines in place.”

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Under the current system, employees who travel on town business keep all of their receipts and are reimbursed for their expenses.

“If they spend $25 on a lunch, they have to bring us that ticket and we verify that ticket,” Mayor Hyram Copeland said. “If it is out of line, we might call the restaurant — but I don’t know of anyone who has gotten way out of line.”

The city calculates the ballpark cost of a trip beforehand and then sets an approximate limit.

“They are told before they leave, ‘This is within reason and you can spend this much money,’” Copeland said.

If the bill is a little more expensive than the city wants to pay, Copeland said he talks to the employee.

“If it is a little high — $4 or $5 more than we want to pay — we will make them pay the difference,” he said.

Betts’ recommendation did not come because anyone abused the system, but rather because it is just good business sense to have an official, written travel policy in place, Betts said.

“Every company that is in business, whether it is a Fortune 500 company or a mom-and-pop, they have a travel policy,” he said.

The state travel policy is reviewed every year and changed as needed, and if the town adopts it they won’t have to worry about making yearly policy changes, Betts said.

During the Monday meeting, City Attorney Jack McLemore said one of the problems is that the spending limit for breakfasts set by the state policy — $8 — could hardly “get a spoon to stir your coffee” in a major city like New Orleans.

However, Betts said the policy is a little more nuanced than that, and it has a tier system that adjusts spending limits to the size of cities.

“It takes into consideration that when you go to different areas of the state and even different areas of the country that prices are different,” Betts said.

The $8 spending limit for breakfasts is for tier one cities.

“New Orleans and New York aren’t even in tier one,” he said.

There are some changes Betts hopes are made to the state travel policy, though.

Currently, if a city employee went to a one-day seminar related to their city work, they would not be reimbursed for a lunch they bought.

The main reason the city has never adopted a travel policy, though, is simple, Copeland said.

“We never had one because we didn’t do a lot of traveling until the last couple of years,” he said.