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Tracking official's expenses

November 18, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN, ERIN CUNNINGHAM, DAN DEARTH

WASHINGTON COUNTY

· Washington County Board of Education Member Bernadette M. Wagner spent about $2,600 of taxpayers' money in the last fiscal year to represent the school system at a conference in San Francisco.

· Hagerstown Mayor Robert E. Bruchey II and Councilwoman Alesia Parson-McBean spent more than their allocated amounts in fiscal 2007. On the other hand, Councilman Lewis C. Metzner has a $25 credit.

· Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire has not spent a penny of expense money since he took office as a commissioner in December 2006.

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Even as the spending habits of public officials differ, so do the expense policies of Washington County's three largest governmental bodies.

At the same time, a check of expense records for the 2007 fiscal years showed they had something in common: Each spent less than the overall amount allocated for elected officials in the 2007 fiscal year that ended June 30.

Expense records of the three boards also showed that there were only two cases in which individuals exceeded their budgeted amount.

What they spent

Following is what a check of expense records found:

· Hagerstown's mayor and the five members of the City Council spent $18,890 in fiscal year 2007, City Finance Director Alfred Martin said.

That amount was $6,160 less than the $25,050 allocated for their expenses, Martin said.

· The five Washington County Commissioners spent a combined $2,978.55 in fiscal year 2007, according to Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray. The amount was about $7,000 less than the commissioners' annual limit of $2,000 per commissioner, or $10,000.

·The Board of Education members' expenses for fiscal year 2007 - for six current members and three former board members - were a combined $6,626.54 of the $14,000 allocated for their expenses.

City of Hagerstown

Metzner, who has a $25 credit, said he hasn't attended a municipal conference in a while and, when he does, he pays for all of his expenses except for the registration fees and hotel costs.

"I can afford to do that," he said.

Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh spent $131.23, making her second only to Metzner in terms of frugality.

Bruchey overspent his expense budget for fiscal year 2007 by $4,415.48. His budget was $3,450 and he spent $7,865.48.

Bruchey said his initial budget was based on annual mayoral spending in previous years. That amount didn't anticipate funding new programs, such as the Mayor's Task Force for the Homeless, which cost $2,646, he said.

Bruchey's expense account shows that he also attended conferences as well as several Chamber of Commerce events, including Eggs & Issues, State of the City, State of the County and a luncheon with former Gov. Robert Ehrlich.

"I'm very involved," he said. "I go to several conferences, meetings and awards dinners that I have to pay for."

Like other members of the council, Parson-McBean is permitted to spend $4,000 per year on city-related expenses. In fiscal year 2007, she spent $5,389.09, mostly on conferences, such as the those offered by the National League of Cities and Maryland Municipal League.

She also attended a gathering on Electricity and Natural Gas Markets and Regulations, which gives attorneys, industry and government representatives updates on energy regulations, the Hagerstown YMCA Black Achievers Gala and Rawlings Fellowship Workshops.

In an e-mail, Parson-McBean said the knowledge she obtains at the conferences she attended would be used to better the city.

"I am proud of how I represent our city and the sacrifices I have made to do so," Parson-McBean said. "Through the classes offered at the conferences, I have learned techniques for enhancing the quality of life for our residents through, but not limited to, best practices and failures in areas of economic development."

City Finance Director Alfred Martin said neither Bruchey nor Parson-McBean's overspending was approved in advance, but it was OK'd, in part because they spent the money while conducting city business.

Overall, the mayor and council spent $18,890 of the $25,050 allocated for their expenses, Martin said. That is $6,160 less than the amount budgeted.

Any unspent expense money stays in the mayor and council's budget for the following year or is used to pay for other operations, he said. The system works well to control spending, Martin said.

Washington County Board of Education

Washington County Board of Education members spent $11,500 in 22 months on conferences, banquets and business trips, according to expense records prepared by Washington County Public Schools staff for August 2005 through June 2007.

The school board had $18,000 budgeted in fiscal year 2006 for those types of expenses, Director of Accounting David Brandenburg said. That amount was reduced to $14,000 for fiscal year 2007 and the current fiscal year.

There is no limit to what can be spent by individual board members, Brandenburg said.

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