Council approves travel stipend
Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 17, 2012
By ROBIN SHANNON
EDGARD – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council on Tuesday voted to amend the parish government’s travel policy to include the option of setting a monthly payment for mileage logged by council members.
The resolution to change the mileage reimbursement policy was added Monday afternoon by Council Chairman Lucien Gauff, who said the process of tracking and logging miles traveled on council business can be cumbersome and confusing to manage throughout the day.
“You might see someone while you are out on an errand, and they may want you to come out and look at an issue in their neighborhood,” Gauff said. “You have to determine what is council business mileage and what is not. This gives us the option of one set payout per month.”
Under the policy change, district council members would be allowed a $300-per month stipend and at-large council members, as well as the District 1 councilmember, would be offered a $400-per month stipend. Gauff said the at-large and District 1 amount is higher because those council members have more territory to cover.
Gauff said the monthly amounts were based on the average monthly travel reimbursement afforded to parish department heads, the parish president and special assistants, which was started under the Nickie Monica administration. The monthly stipends vary from $200-per month to $800-per month, but average out to about $400.
“The council wanted to be included in the travel policy with administration and the parish president,” Gauff said. “We already receive roughly 48 cents per mile logged. The stipend would actually be less than that on average.”
Council members are paid $8,230 per year for their service. The mileage stipend, which is taxable and treated as income, increases the annual salary by 44 percent, or $3,600, for district council members and 58 percent, or $4,800 for at-large members.
Division B Councilmember-at-Large Jaclyn Hotard said the stipend would not change the way most council members conduct business.
“We do a lot of driving during the day across all of the districts,” Hotard said. “We looked at council members who are diligent in tracking miles, and the average amounts often come out higher with the per mile reimbursement.”
Hotard said it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between personal miles and council business miles because most council members are seeing constituents and going to meetings throughout the day across the parish.
“We have civic meetings, town halls and other events in different parts of the parish that we go to,” she said. “It is sometimes hard to gauge.”
Councilman Michael Wright said he is one who rigorously tracks the mileage logged for council work. He said there are times where council members need to drive outside the parish for meetings and conferences where the monthly stipend would work in the parish’s favor. He said on average, he usually accumulates about 150 miles per month.
“It is a more cost effective method for keeping track of travel time,” Wright said. “I think there are some who will still take the reimbursement.”
There are others, like Councilwoman Cheryl Millet, who said they have never taken mileage reimbursements for any travel logged while on the council.
“I already consider it part of my job and part of my salary,” Millet said. “The way I look at it, we already get paid for out time on the council. Driving around the district is part of taking care of the district needs.”
Millet and Councilman Art Smith abstained from the vote. Councilman Larry Snyder voted against the measure.
In other action, the council voted to authorize the opening of bids on telemetry for the parish’s sewer lift stations as part of ongoing repairs to the sewer system. The council also awarded a $147,700 contract for ongoing inflow and rainwater infiltration repairs to the parish sewer system. The work includes raising manhole covers throughout the parish. The estimated budget for the project is $200,000.
The council also authorized a sixth change order for an expansion project at the Central Library branch in LaPlace. The change adds $3,870 to the contract with J.A. Jack Julius Jr. Inc. of Marrero for the project. St. John Chief Administrative Officer Theresa Rodgers said the change, which was approved by the Library Board, covers additional asphalt for the parking lot to correct problems with elevation and drainage. She said the project is still within the estimated budget.