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Differing mileage reimbursements prompt questions

The money they claim for expense reimbursements differs starkly among members of the Summit County Commission, according to a review of Auditor’s Office documents obtained by The Park Record.

Commissioners are paid more than 58 cents per mile for gas driving to and from their meetings. They’re also reimbursed for registration fees at conferences they attend and food and other expenses they incur traveling on county business.

But the part-time commissioners, who receive annual salaries of about $60,000, shouldn’t nickel and dime taxpayers for a bunch of extra costs, Summit County Commissioner Ken Woolstenhulme said in a telephone interview Monday.

"We are getting paid an excessive amount of money for what commissioners ought to be paid, and for that reason I have chosen to pay my own way out of that money, and I know this is a different position than the rest of them take," Woolstenhulme said.

Since his 2003 swearing in Woolstenhulme claims his expenses as a commissioner have totaled about $2,725, according to documents obtained from the Summit County Auditor’s Office.

"I’m surprised it’s that much," Woolstenhulme replied when told the total.

Meanwhile, his colleague, County Commissioner Sally Elliott was sworn in two years later in 2005 and has since received about $14,000 from taxpayers in Summit County for various expense reimbursements.

"That seems high," Elliott said. "I’m a little surprised."

Summit County Commissioner Bob Richer’s expenses since 2003 totaled about $8,100, according to documents obtained in October.

"I absolutely follow the policy that was in place when I took office," Richer said Tuesday. "My mileage reflects the meetings that I have attended in the past six years."

But Elliott has claimed more for mileage in fewer than four years than have her two colleagues in their nearly six years combined, documents state.

She also does the most work outside Summit County, Elliott explained in a telephone interview.

"I don’t feel badly about claiming my county mileage The county doesn’t even provide me with a desk in Coalville," she said. "The county does not provide me with an office, the county does not provide me with Internet connection and I have huge telephone expenses that I never claim reimbursement for."

Elliott said she attends out-of-town meetings of the Utah Association of Counties, Quality Growth Commission, Intergovernmental Roundtable and Utah Legislature.

"Every week during the legislative session I go down to the Legislature and [Richer and Woolstenhulme] don’t do those things," she said. "They gave me all the jobs that require all the driving."

Elliott said she receives about $25 per month from the county for her cell phone costs.

"The county just gives [Richer and Woolstenhulme] a cell phone and pays the entire bill," Elliott said. "I wanted to keep my old cell phone number because everybody knew it."

Since offices for most commissioners are in their homes, they are allowed to claim mileage commuting to Coalville each week, said Brian Bellamy, interim Summit County manager.

"Most commissioners use their home as their office and most commissioners have submitted mileage reimbursements for their weekly meetings," Bellamy said. "A lot of people will say, ‘Gosh. That makes sense to me.’ Other people are going to say, ‘The economy is so tough, $60,000 would be enough for me."

But Woolstenhulme countered that he hasn’t claimed reimbursement for a single mile in 2008. However, Woolstenhulme was ill and missed many meetings this year while recovering from hospital stay.

For commuting he said elected officials shouldn’t be reimbursed.

"You have to get work and work doesn’t pay you to get to work," Woolstenhulme said.


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