Christmas came early for County Commission members - most of whom were surprised by a much-larger-than-expected expense check in September. But now commission members are being told they are going to have to itemize expenditures.
Most County Commission members said they were not aware that the budget passed in June along with a 26-cent property tax increase included a more-than-double increase in commission expense checks. They went from $900 per quarter to $2,000.
The raise was not discussed publicly and was apparently known only to a bare minimum of commissioners.
Commissioner Jim Coppinger said, "After I got my check I called the office and said there must be some mistake. They told me that was the correct amount."
But now commission members have been advised individually by County Finance Director Louis Wright and County Attorney Rheubin Taylor that they must begin itemizing their expenses. Previously, commissioners signed a certification quarterly saying their expenditures were at least the $900 amount.
Commissioners were told that the new requirement is not related to the raise in expense payments, but is a new IRS requirement.
Commissioner Fred Skillern said he will no longer take any expense amount rather than keep up with the daily paperwork.
Commissioner Coppinger said he will forego the regular checks and just accept payment for the items he turns in.
Commissioner Curtis Adams said commissioners are still deciding what to do, but he said he expects that all will start itemizing and the regular checks will stop.
He said, "I spend $10,000 a year on my office in East Ridge, and it is strictly county business."
He noted that commissioners "are only paid $19,000 a year."
Commissioner Larry Henry, who was chairman when the budget was passed, said commissioners should have known what was in the budget they were voting on.
He said with the rise in gasoline and other expenses and with some commissioners having far-flung districts that commissioners have high out-of-pocket expenses.
Commissioner Henry said of the new requirement, "I have a real problem with it. I think it's a little much."
Commissioner Richard Casavant said he had not known about the higher payment until getting his check. He said he has not decided what approach he will take.
Commissioner Coppinger said, "I will itemize rather than be paid a raise I didn't ask for. There will probably be a time I get a call and run out, then forget to write it down."
City Council members, who make the same salary as County Commission members, are allowed up to $200 per month in expense reimbursements.
Carol O'Neal of the council office said, "Only one or two ever turn anything in. It is mainly Councilwoman (Linda) Bennett and Councilman (Jack) Benson."