Overseas trip, Leadership group push Bruchey's expenses way up

January 18, 1998

Overseas trip, Leadership group push Bruchey's expenses way up


Staff Writer

In the first five months of this fiscal year, Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II's expenses have already exceeded the $3,000 annual limit - a limit that apparently has been discretionary for several years.

Bruchey spent $3,182 from July 1, 1997, to Nov. 30, 1997, according to the city's finance department. The mayor also spent $320 during his first month in office, June 1997, which is part of the prior fiscal year.

"The dollar amounts really haven't been used extensively. They're guides," said Al Martin, finance director. Martin said what types of expenses are attributed to the expense limit is a gray area.


Ray Foltz, the city's accounting department supervisor, said he wouldn't be surprised if former Mayor Steven T. Sager's expenses ran over the $3,000 limit if every budget line item had been reviewed in detail.

Typically, the expense limit includes costs that are construed to be a personal benefit to elected officials, such as meals, Martin said.

None of the five city council members had overspent their annual $1,000 limits as of Nov. 30, according to the department.

The limits are not mentioned in a 1987 expense policy, but are cited in the city code as maximum reimbursement amounts.

Since 1987, the expense policy and code were used to categorize costs by the type of expenditure rather than calling it an expense account reimbursement, Martin said.

"It may be something that we want to take a look at. It can be somewhat confusing," Martin said.

Bruchey also said the expense policies need to be reviewed.

"I don't have a problem with the $3,000. I think it's plenty. But I don't think you can lump everything that happens into $3,000," Bruchey said.

He and Martin questioned whether two large expenditures belong in the mayor's expense limit.

They are a $1,319 September trip to Hagerstown's sister city - Wesel, Germany - and Bruchey's $925 membership in Leadership Hagerstown.

Martin said Bruchey was acting as an official representative of the city during the trip. Activities included the 45th anniversary celebration of the sister-city affiliation.

Attending Leadership Hagerstown allowed the new mayor to network with community leaders. It should be considered a direct business expense rather than be applied to what is construed as an employee expense account, Martin said.

The entire annual budget for the mayor's office is $41,931 for the fiscal year that ends June 30. That includes his $28,000 annual salary, office supplies, and phone and fax charges.

The council has a similar budget of $86,055.

The mayor's budget includes the city's contribution toward Bruchey's retirement and health insurance plans, but those won't be made, according to Martin and Eric Marburger, the city's personnel manager.

Bruchey said he is saving the city about $5,400 by not enrolling in those programs. He will receive retirement income from the state's program because he was a state correctional officer.

Bruchey also plans to give away the $4,000 raise that was approved for the mayor's salary starting this fiscal year. The United Way of Washington County will get $1,000 and a graduate from each of the city's three high schools will get a $1,000 scholarship, he said.

The budget also includes Bruchey's cellular phone calls, which were not applied to the expense limit, Foltz said.

From July to November, Bruchey made $392 worth of calls, according to the finance department.

"I think it's very appropriate that the mayor has a cell phone," Bruchey said.

He said taxpayers should pick up the bill for the phone because it allows him to stay in touch with constituents, he said.

Bruchey said he does not publicize the cellular phone's number because he does not want crank calls. He gives the number to selected individuals and uses it to check messages left with his secretary at City Hall.

The phone also allows him to make calls on urgent matters or matters he might forget to call about once he reaches a regular telephone, he said.

According to Sprint Spectrum bills for the phone, the mayor's calls have included:

- Several calls to West End neighborhood watch officials.

- Several calls to his 905 Woodland Way home.

- An 11-minute call to Orwell, Ohio, that Bruchey said he doesn't recall. The call cost $2.75. When the number was called, an answering machine beeped with no greeting.

- At least one 35-cent phone call to Rocky's Pizza on Pennsylvania Avenue so he could order a pizza on his way home for a late dinner.

"The key thing on any kind of expense is whether it's business related. I don't know exactly what the mayor's use on the cell phone is," Martin said.

Because of the mayor's irregular hours, the portable phone allows him to be out in the community, addressing citizen concerns, and still stay in contact with city officials and family members, Martin said.

Former Mayor Steven T. Sager said he also used a cell phone during his last months in office.

Mostly they were brief, mundane calls to City Hall to report problems around the city, such as a large pile of trash that needed to be picked up or a sign that needed replacing, he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles