A new state law mandating greater control of travel expenses for employees will force little change in the way boards currently do business.
Local government officials are in the process of developing, implementing or updating policies related to travel to meet the requirements of the Local Government Travel Expense Control Act, which took effect on Jan. 1.
The Act provides that non-home rule units of local government, by resolution or ordinance, regulate travel, meal and lodging expenses of officers and employees. The resolution or ordinance will include the types of official business for which travel, meal and lodging expenses are allowable, the maximum reimbursement allowed and a standardized form for submission to the board.
Documentation must be provided before a roll call vote is held by the board. It prohibits entertainment reimbursement, according to the Act.
Pekin District 108 Business Manager Glayn Worrell said the board has always approved travel expenses in a listing presented at a board meeting, but in the past the district would pay the smaller bills before the board actually approved the bills.
“Technically, now, with the way the law is, those expenditures can’t be paid until they are approved by the Board of Education in a roll call vote,” said Worrell. “That’s kind of a change too — it didn’t necessarily have to be a roll call vote.”
Worrell said the district budgets money for training, seminars and other business that requires travel. It pays gas mileage based on the federal mileage rate, lodging if required, meals and registration fees.
To limit expenses, Worrell said the district sends one or two employees for the training and upon their return, they teach the rest of the staff. The district also trains staff from other school districts at a reduced cost to help them get needed training.
The Pekin Park District Board will vote on its ordinance later this month. It has previously not had a policy for travel, said Cameron Bettin, park district director, but travel has to be approved in advance.
“It’s a transparency thing, that’s really what it boils down to,” said Bettin. “We’ve always budgeted our conferences and workshops.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve never reimbursed anybody for attending a workshop or a conference. It’s something we always plan for in our budget process. Sometimes things pop up in the year that you don’t know about. If somebody wants to go to those, they get approval from their supervisor or me, but it’s always something they get approval for. We don’t want people to decide, ‘Oh, I’m going to attend this workshop and pay for it myself and ask for a reimbursement.”
Tazewell County Board Chairman David Zimmerman said the county is currently updating all of its policies and the travel policy is one of those. The main change there will be the requirement for an employee to submit a form prior to the travel requesting approval for payment.
“In the past, when we passed the budget we have all of the training or conferences that people will be attending that year, so we’ve already approved the expenditures and then we approved them again on a voice vote when we approve the bills each month,” he said. “So, in essence, it’s just one more form that will go into the bill vote and will be part of the roll call vote.”
The county pays travel, hotel and motel costs if needed, fees and meals. The meal payment is based on the government rates in the city hosting the event.
State Sen. David Koehler voted in favor of the Act.
“Usually that kind of legislation comes about because there’s been some abuses of travel policy in local communities and this is the way to correct it,” said Koehler. “That’s usually the case when we have a legislation that makes it more refined or restrictive as to what local communities can do.
“I think that anytime you’re spending public dollars you have to be very transparent in how that money is spent, what the purpose of it is, whether it’s approved in a policy — whatever local government is spending that money (on) because that is public money and the public has a right to know.”
Follow Sharon Woods Harris at Twitter.com/sharrispekin