May 6, 2005
Mayor Harvey Burniston
Town of Mountain City
210 South Church Street
Mountain City, Tennessee 37683-1599
Dear Mayor Burniston,
You have asked about certain payments to members of your Board and the verification of expenses related to those payments.
As I understand it, each Board member receives $25 per month, and the Mayor receives $50 per month as "compensation"for serving on the board. These amounts have been authorized by the Board in accordance with the City Charter (Article IV, Section 7). But each Board member also receives $450 quarterly as "reimbursement"for travel-related expenses, and this reimbursement has not been authorized in accordance with the Charter. Instead, this has simply been a traditional practice which has continued over the years.
You are concerned that the $450 quarterly payments may not be proper. I think you are correct. Tennessee Code Annotated, 6-54-901(a) states that cities are authorized to reimburse "for the actual expense which such municipal officer may incur as an incident to holding such office."It is simply illegal to make lump sum payments quarterly toward expenses, which the official may never incur.
In addition, in Article IV, Section 7 of your Charter it states, "That the salaries and other compensation of the Board shall be fixed by the Board."But is also states, "However no increase in salary or other compensation of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen shall be effective during any existing term of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen."This means that an interceding election must always take place before a compensation increase can take effect.
In order to correct all this I think you have two options. First, because the payments are for travel-related expenses you could account for them in accordance with the Town's travel policy. The policy requires documentation of expenses in order for them to be reimbursed. So requiring documentation of expenses and then reimbursing those exact amounts would be one option.
The second option would be to simply raise the compensation of Board members to something greater than the current $25 per month, and to an amount that would seem to reasonably reimburse folks for incidental travel-related costs. If you do this, however, you will need to go ahead and pass the change now, but it won't take effect until after the next election for half of your Board members and then not until the following election for the other half.
In addition to this, if there is ever a special travel situation, such as attending a TML conference, then you can reimburse for actual expenses as provided in your travel policy.
I hope I have answered your question. If not or if I can provide any further assistance please feel free to call.
Municipal Management Consultant