A 'steady' travel year for county departments
Jeremy Nash News-Herald.net
By and large, county governmental departments have seen a steady year in regard to travel and training activities.

The county finance department is currently working on next year’s budget, with a number of departments already submitting their estimations, Estelle Herron, Loudon County mayor, said.

“Each one of them’s (departments) travel budget is extremely low, and I will say they’re very good at keeping their travel budgets under control,” Herron said. “Yes, they’ve always done that. And, you know, you hear other counties doing this and that, but Loudon County had never, just never, been extravagant spenders ...”

Loudon County Budget Director Tracy Blair said she planned to meet with Herron next week concerning next year’s budget.

“Most of the time the departments stay well within whatever their budgeted amounts are, and those budgeted amounts vary depending on their needs,” Blair said. “There could be times that there’s an additional conference or some kind of specialized training on a new requirement that would require more training in one year than another, but as far as expenditures to budget, the departments do very well.”

The mayor’s office budgeted $3,000 for the 2013-14 fiscal year and had used $1,788.37 as of March 19, according to an account analysis provided by Blair. Expenditures are dominated by Herron’s reimbursement for travel, spending $1,071.13 from July 1-Dec. 31. The mayor has also spent $215.35 of the $400 appropriated for in-service and staff development.

Herron said traveling included going to Nashville at least two times per month to speak with state officials.

“They pay me for my mileage because I do not have a county car, so what I do is I wait — I just file that twice a year,” Herron said. “I file it in — they reimburse me in December. You’ll see another one right before the end of June because what I do is I keep up with my mileage from July 1 through December and then I do it again from January to the end of June.”

County officials are reimbursed 47 cents per mile and are allowed to spend a maximum of $46 per day when traveling for business if they use their personal vehicle, Herron said. Expenditures include $7 for breakfast, $11 for lunch, $23 for dinner and $5 for incidental expenses like parking.

A 2012-13 county audit provided by the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury shows the mayor’s office spent $2,769 in travel and $367 for in-service and staff development.

Slow year for travel

Loudon County Commission budgeted $3,500 for the 2013-14 year for travel expenditures and has since used $3,351 with three months remaining until the new fiscal year. In-service and staff development expenditures total $1,970.

Commissioner Bob Franke said he thought the commission had been traveling “probably a little less than normal” compared to prior years.

“Yeah, I would say it was a light year for travel for our group,” Commissioner Sharon Yarbrough said. “That may or may not be good because we get updates, and we (get) refined and refreshed (at conferences), so we didn’t do that, but then we get mailouts, and the agency is real good about sending us all kinds more than enough information.”

Travel expenses largely go toward Tennessee County Services Association conferences, which are usually held twice a year. At the conference, county commissioners, mayors and road superintendents from each county gather to be updated on state legislation that could potentially affect local governments, Yarbrough said.

Commissioner Don Miller was the only one who attended the TCSA conference in February in Nashville due to inclement weather. Normally four or five commissioners make the trip, he said. TCSA is expected to hold another conference June 4-5 in Gatlinburg.

Yarbrough did not foresee county commission expenses would exceed the budgeted $3,500.

“That’s the best money the county can invest is communicating with our state legislators because they can make or break a county,” Miller said.

The 2012-13 audit report shows commissioners spent $2,731 in travel and nothing on in-service and staff development.  

An account analysis of the county commission shows large expenditures included a $400 registration fee for TCSA and County Officials Association of Tennessee, which was incurred in January, and about $2,136 to BB&T Financial, which was used to lodge Herron and the commissioners in October.

Commission spent $300 in in-service and staff development last February for the University of Tennessee’s County Technical Assistance Service, Miller said. He said the commission will begin preparing its budget in April.

Staying up to date

Loudon County Election Commission officials are gearing up for May’s primary to the tune of about $618 for travel expenses spent as of March 19, which is well below the budgeted amount for the year.

Susan Harrison, administrator of elections, said the election commission usually budgeted $10,000 each year. During two-election years, mileage jumps, which then results in more travel expenditures, she said. This year will only see one election, but two will take place during the 2014-15 year.

“Travel goes for mileage, conferences, meals for Election Day workers that are at the polls at least 12 1/2 hours on Election Day,” Harrison said. “Please remember when we submit mileage we have used our personal vehicles and have assumed the risk of damaging our cars.”

Harrison said the bulk of the commission’s travel entailed state conferences, including a state conference in June where she, along with commissioners Sue Hartsook and Betty Brown, attended for about $1,097 in Memphis.

“By law I am required to attend all conferences,” Harrison said. “This is also the only time there is any training for the commissioners from the state office. So it is very important they attend if possible to stay up to date on laws and procedures. The bulk goes to the state conference in June.”

Harrison said the commission’s budget had been submitted to Herron in preparation for the new year.

The county’s audit report for the 2012-13 year shows the election commission spent $7,429 in travel expenses and $300 for in-service and staff development.

‘No big surprises’

Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Assistant Chief Deputy Jimmy Davis said the majority of travel and training expenditures came from conferences, training academies and ammunition in what has been a “pretty steady” year for the department.

The sheriff’s office appropriated $8,000 for travel and $15,000 for in-service and staff development.  

“We try to attend our conferences because we get a lot of training from those,” Davis said. “A couple of people are required for conferences because that’s where they get their time, like A.J. Yokley, our general departmental instructor, and (Sgt.) Jerramie Bowen. ... But this year we’ve been pretty much on point, no big surprises, nothing over what we usually spend on training or travel.”

An account analysis shows the sheriff’s office has spent about $7,870 for travel, with $1,690 going toward Sheriff Tim Guider and Chief Deputy Tony Aikens attending an annual Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association conference in July in Sevierville.  

“You network the sheriffs, and it’s very useful,” Guider said. “You’ve got to keep open communications, and, of course, the training is certainly beneficial.”

In-service and staff development is currently at about $8,535, including a $2,500 expenditure used to send Deputy Charlie Huskin to Tennessee Law Enforcement Academy in Nashville in September, and $1,023 was used to lodge Yokley, Bowen and Deputy Larry Osborn at the Clarion Inn and Suites in November for a Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Association conference in Gatlinburg. The sheriff’s office also spent $1,860 with Gulf States Distributors for ammunition, Davis said.

An audit report for the 2012-13 year shows the sheriff’s office spent $8,963 in travel and $8,717 for in-service and staff development.

Davis said the sheriff’s office budget had been submitted last month.

“I mean, we pretty much know what we’re going to spend unless some things come up that are different,” Davis said. “The only thing that sometimes pop up in the middle of the year might be sending someone, which is actually our greatest expense, is sending someone to the police academy where someone decides to leave or is terminated or something of that nature. It is an unexpected expense.”