There was an intense debate from both sides of a yes/no vote during the Cortland County Legislative monthly meeting last Thursday, January 26th. Legislators debated with one another over authorization of a payment of mileage to legislators when traveling for official business, including to committee meetings from their homes.
The legislative local policy would be for legislators on assignments, committees, and/or boards and would require the annual amount to be reimbursed for mileage traveled and properly documents based on the most recent IRS standards and the policy would no conflict with the Authorization to Travel Policy with regards to legislators attendance to conferences and trainings.
Arguments were brought up that legislators should not be given mileage for driving from their home to “do their job”.
Legislator Linda Jones (R-D9) asked if the mileage reimbursement includes legislators going to assigned committees and going to legislative sessions. Savannah Hempstead (Clerk of the Legislature) responded to Jones’ question. To which she was informed yes.
“I will be a no vote on this. I don’t believe you should be able to claim mileage to come and do your job that you’re elected to do.” Jones replied back.
“I will also be a note vote. I have been opposed to this from when I was a county employee and then a legislator. We do not pay our employees to drive to work.” Legislator Ann Homer (D-D7) stated during the meeting.
“We do not pay our employees to drive to work. We have employees (The County) that drive far further than any single legislator that drives to the County Office Building everyday. What kind of example are we setting for our employees when we are being paid to go to work?” Legislator Cathy Bischoff (D-D3) asked the legislature.
Bischoff continued informing the legislature that the overall total amount that would be paid would be zero as she stated that section 2 in the policy says the annual amount to be reimbursed for mileage traveled and properly documents is based off of the most recent IRS standards, which she continued there are no IRS standards for mileage for legislators.
Several legislators, though, stated their support for the mileage reimbursement amendment.
Legislator Kelly Fairchild Preston (R-D10) voiced her support for the amendment after seeing the point of view of legislators who do not live in the city limits.
“I finally got it (mileage reimbursement) when I was traveling with Mr. Bischoff out into the towns. So we do what we can, we carpool, that was not always an option. We have our own schedules, but I’m not sure of how many of you (legislators) who have traveled to Truxton, Cuyler, Virgil, Lapeer, Marathon, not once, but twice.” Preston stated to the legislature.
She continued to speak regarding the amount of driving being done by legislators due to the current redistricting of Cortland County and the need to speak with residents on their concerns or questions of the process.
“What are out of town legislators are doing and they’re coming into this building (County Office Building) once, maybe twice (A day). I know just from Homer I have come in for meetings during the morning and then come back for redistricting in the afternoon. I’m going to support this.” Preston said.
Legislator George Wagner spoke after Preston and informed Legislators who live in the City of Cortland area that they do not have to deal with the issue of expensive fuel costs of commuting, or the wear and tear of their vehicles from the driving. He continued stating that Legislators living outside the city area are treated like “black sheep” due to them being located out in the county and not in the City of Cortland area.
“Some legislators traveling much further than others because of the many conferences or meetings they have to go to. So this wasn’t being a selfish thing saying oh legislators want mileage. That is not the case so I want to make sure the public understands that.” said Richard Stock (D-D6).
Discussion continued on the matter with both sides for yes and no digging in their heels on their viewpoints of the mileage policy. The legislators arguing for a yes vote reiterating this is for the extra miles that have to be traveled by those who do not live in close proximity to the County Office Building.
While legislators argued against the mileage stated they chose to run for office and knew the civic duties an elected official has when it comes to being in the legislature.
After nearly twenty minutes of debate on the proposed Legislative Mileage Reimbursement Policy, a vote was finally announced. The Resolution passed with a 10-7 vote in favor of the policy.