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Per diem vs. expense reports; Which is more fair to taxpayers?

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The issue of whether to pay Hammond village employees a per diem rate or require them to turn in an itemized expense report when away on business was again up for debate at the Hammond Village Board meeting Monday night.

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In a 3-2 vote, it was decided to allow village employees up to a $40 a day meal allowance when they’re out of town for village business, provided the employee turns in receipts upon their return. The motion was made by Village President Tony Bibeau. Trustees Laurie Gruber and Michael Kamm supported the motion, while Trustees Sandy Brecht and Mary Rivard voted against it. Trustees Lynn Pabst and Mark Benton were not present.

The question was brought up in recent weeks because some trustees felt it wasn’t fair to taxpayers to pay a $40 per day flat rate per diem to employees who attend conferences and educational meetings where meals are already provided and paid for through conference fees. Employees have been turning in expense requests and getting paid the per diem ahead of time.

“We’re paying them to get there, paying them to go there, paying for the food at the conference, paying for them to stay,” Rivard said. “We’re paying too much.”

Brecht agreed, saying she wanted to get away from the per diem rate.

“It’s not our money, it’s the taxpayers’ money,” Brecht said.

Bibeau said if it’s not the board’s intention to pay employees for meal reimbursement when a conference already provides meals (whether it be breakfast, lunch or both), it’s easier and cleaner to do an expense report.

“They’re away from their families, they’re away from home,” Bibeau said. “Some people may eat at McDonald’s off the dollar menu. Some may eat a steak dinner. But they will have to bring in an itemized receipt.”

Resident Wally Graf spoke up, saying his employer allows employees to spend up to a $30 limit per day on meals, charging them on a company credit card. He is then required to bring in the receipts. If someone doesn’t have a receipt, then it comes out of their paycheck.

“It’s not fair to expect people to front the cash for a whole week, but it’s not fair to taxpayers to pay per diem if someone’s not using it all but is keeping it,” Graf said.

Graf also suggested that if an employee doesn’t spend the full amount per day allowed, then this way they’re not paid for the full amount like in per diem, but only for what they use.

Rivard was against allowing employees using a village credit card, saying they ran into trouble with that in the past. She also didn’t like that some people used it to buy pop and chips while away on business.

“Let’s not worry about what happened five years ago, or even last month,” Bibeau said. “We need to start trusting our employees.”

It was unclear if employees will be reimbursed for spending their own money up to $40 per day or be allowed to use a village credit card for up to $40 per day for meals and be required to turn in receipts to account for expenses.

It was made clear that Clerk/administrator Sandi Hazer would be carefully checking receipts turned in by employees. If a receipt is missing, the cost will come out of an employee’s paycheck.

Other business:

  • The board voted to spend up to $500 on this year’s village flower baskets for Davis Street. Village attorney Tim Scott offered to donate $150 to $175 to help with the baskets.
  • The board approved spending up to $2,500 for a Magikist pipe thawing machine for the Public Works Department.
  • Bibeau said 15 people helped pass out notices on Saturday, Feb. 15, to homeowners explaining the need to keep a small stream of water running at all times. The water continuously running helps prevent pipes from freezing. Residents will be asked to run their water for an undetermined amount of time because even as the weather warms, the frost will be driven deeper into the ground, causing pipes to continue to freeze. Residents will be charged for their average use of water for the last 12 months.
  • The board approved switching the village credit cards to Visa cards through Citizens State Bank in Roberts. Citizens charges a $50 annual fee for all the village’s cards, plus offers one reward point per dollar spent.
  • St. Croix Central Superintendent Tim Widiker approached the board about installing a new digital LED two-sided sign at the high school’s driveway entrance. The current village ordinance only allows time and temperature to be displayed on such signs. Scott told Widiker to outline the details and give them to village building inspector Brian Wert.
  • The board agreed to send a draft of the updated village employee handbook to employment attorney Carol Skinner of Hudson for review and recommendations.
  • The board authorized Clerk/administrator Sandi Hazer to run a village Facebook page for notification purposes, while taking out a comments option.
  • Bibeau appointed Gruber, Kamm and Brecht to a committee researching and updating the village’s sign ordinance.
  • The board approved a contract clarification with Murtha Sanitation, which allows the board the option of negotiating with the company at the four-year mark of a five-year contract without binding them to another five-year contract. The board is then free to seek other bids at the four-year mark.
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Sarah Young
Sarah Young joined RiverTown Multimedia in October 2013 as a news reporter for the New Richmond News. She covers primarily Hammond, Roberts and Somerset. Previously she free-lanced for the River Falls Journal, Hudson Star-Observer, RiverTown special publications and the Superior Catholic Herald. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Spanish and French in 2001. She completed a minor in journalism in 2004. Before working at the New Richmond News, she was an assistant manager at Philander's Grill & Bar in Prescott. She lives in Prescott with her husband Mike and daughter Carolina.  
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