Commissioners’ mileage questioned

Published 1:00 am Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Candidates Tony Wells, David Ellis, Ken Northey, Bill Godwin, Kylan Lewis and Lynn Sasser listen during last night’s Civitan Political Forum at LBWCC.

Would-be county commissioners were asked how they could ensure taxpayers’ money is properly expended, particularly when it comes to mileage reimbursements, during Tuesday night’s Civitan forum at LBW.

The unspoken but implied phrase was mileage reimbursements “to commissioners.”

Several candidates have made an issue of commissioners’ mileage reimbursements. In September of 2010, The Star-News reported that between October 2009 and August 2010, commissioners had traveled a total of 57,482 miles and claimed $29,414 in reimbursements, or 50-cents per mile.

Alan Lucas, a candidate for commission in District 4 and the second person to answer the question, said he doesn’t believe commissioners should receive mileage.

“I think that should be shut out. The way the unit system is now, maybe commissioners pay should be cut.”

In January 2009, commissioners voted to change from operating under a “district system,” where commissioners were responsible for the maintenance of the county’s roadways, to a “unit system,” which placed that responsibility on the county engineer’s office.

David Ellis, who is seeking reelection in District 1, said, “When we took office, mileage for commissioners was $12,000 (each). We cut it to $8,000.”

He said when the expense was cut, it was recorded on one budget line item. Now, he said, each commissioner has a line in the budget to which his personal expense can be compared.

Ellis’s opponent, Ken Northey, said he thinks there should be “very little need” for commissioners to be paid for mileage under the unit system.

“Maybe if they go out of town on business for the county,’ he said. “I don’t really see a big need.”

District 3 incumbent Harold Elmore said a commissioner needs to “get out and check his roads,” adding that he “rides the roads” and reports problems to the engineer.

His opponent, Joe Bush, suggested commissioners ride with county supervisors to check road conditions.

“There has to be more budget control, particularly on travel for county commissioners.”

District 2 candidate Tony Wells, a former county employee, said, “We have a line item budget in this county. If that line item budget is followed, you won’t have a problem.”

Joe Barton, also a District 2 candidate, said if elected, he would post his expenses online and encourage others to do so, as well.

Commissioners also were quizzed about the management of the Covington Center Arena, currently leased to Don Bullard, who has an option his five-year lease for an additional five years.

Wells, who once managed the arena, said, “The county has a huge investment in that arena. We should do whatever we can do to produce the most money and economic impact from the arena.

“We can make more money by running ourselves,” he said. “If we can’t, we should sell it and get out of arena business.”

Ellis said “leasing the arena was something we had to do.”

“If we hadn’t made those tough decisions,” he said. “We’d have men working 32 hours per week and we’d have had to cut benefits.”

Lucas said the county should resume management of the arena.

Bush said the question offered a moot point.

“The county entered in to an agreement ot lease it five five years with an option for five more,” he said.

Elmore defended the lease.

“We done the best thing we could do,” he said. “We saved $200,000 the first year we leased it to Don Bullard. He’s probably spent $500,000 on that thing. That’s helping us.”