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Beach trips are top item on City Council expense list

April 01, 1997

By JULIE E. GREENE

Staff Writer

Trips to Ocean City, Md., for annual conferences for municipal leaders accounted for most of Hagerstown City Council members' expenses over the past 45 months.

Of the $11,364 in city taxpayers' money that council members spent from July 1, 1993, to March 27, 1997, $10,272 paid for them to attend Maryland Municipal League conferences, according to expense reports.

Breaking down the conference expenses, council members spent $6,452 for lodging, $2,520 for registration fees and $1,300 for mileage.

For the June 1996 conference, council members Susan Saum-Wicklein, Lewis Metzner and Fred Kramer spent four nights at the ocean-front Princess Royale Hotel at a cost of $536 each.

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Councilman Mark Jameson and his family stayed at an ocean-front condo for eight days and he was reimbursed $447 for four nights of the stay that corresponded to his conference attendance.

Registration fees for the 1996 conference were $215 each.

Deposits of $139 each for rooms at the Princess Royale, the host hotel for this year's June 22-25 conference, already have been made for Metzner and Saum-Wicklein, said Ray Foltz, the city's accounting department supervisor.

If neither is re-elected in the May 20 general election, the deposits could be refunded or used by other council members, said City Clerk Gann Breichner.

Reserving rooms early saves the city money because the rate increases on April 11 and it's usually more expensive to stay at a hotel other than the host hotel, Breichner said. The rooms reserved for the conference at the Princess Royale sold out on the first day of registration.

Metzner said the conferences provide city officials with a chance to talk to the governor and to attend seminars that focus on municipal issues, such as curfews and noise ordinances.

"I find, unlike most conventions I attend, (the attendees) are acutely aware that they're going on someone else's dollar," Metzner said. Many participants attend meetings instead of heading for the beach.

Each council member receives a $6,000 annual salary and is permitted to spend up to $1,000 a year, Foltz said. Council members elected this spring will receive annual salaries of $8,000.

The city's elected officials can spend up to $10 per breakfast, up to $15 per lunch and up to $25 per dinner, said City Finance Director Al Martin.

Former Councilman John Schnebly spent $26 before resigning in May 1994 because he moved out of the city.

Among current council members, Mark Jameson has spent the most, $2,994, in roughly the last four years, while William Breichner has spent the least, $1,118.

Jameson's expenses included $501 for 2,000 sheets of letterhead paper, 2,000 envelopes and 500 business cards, records showed.

Jameson said he wrote congratulatory letters to local residents and business people for accomplishments or awards they received.

Councilwoman Susan Saum-Wicklein spent $40 for a mini-cassette recorder in 1994. Saum-Wicklein said she uses the recorder to dictate notes to constituents and other city business.

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