Five Hallandale Beach city commissioners pocketed nearly $35,000 of their unspent travel allowances last month under the new policy they enacted last year. Previously, unspent travel funds were returned to the city’s general budget.
The new policy, in place since Oct. 1, 2013, allows commissioners to take home any money that’s left in their individual travel accounts at the end of the city’s fiscal year.
Four commissioners got checks from the city shortly after Hallandale Beach’s fiscal year ended on Sept. 30. A fifth commissioner, Alexander Lewy, got his travel allowance payout when he resigned in May. The payouts represented salary boosts of up to 53 percent.
Mayor Joy Cooper was the only commission member to turn down the payout. Cooper, who spent more city funds traveling than all of the other commissioners, declined $2,781 in unspent funds from her $15,000 travel budget, according to city officials. Cooper traveled extensively to attend local, state and national meetings and conferences.
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The five commissioners combined spent $10,145.
“I have no problem receiving it,” said Vice Mayor Bill Julian of his additional income. “It was budgeted money and better than asking for a pay raise.”
“If they wanted a raise they should have voted for one,” said Cooper, who responded in an email to the BrowardBulldog.org. “Elected officials should be here to serve the public, not make a living.”
Julian, who spent only $201 on city travel, got the biggest travel payout, $11,882. His $10,000 allowance as a commissioner was increased by another $2,083 when he was appointed vice mayor to succeed Alexander Lewy, who resigned in May. The increase was to cover more extensive traveling expected of Julian after he took over for Lewy.
Julian said he was “surprised” when he received a note from City Manager Renee Miller increasing his travel budget. The additional funds, he added, were authorized under the new city commission travel policy approved.
This was the total of Julian’s travel spending for the city last year: $125 to attend three local community functions before becoming vice mayor, and another $80 to attend a church sponsored dinner-dance in Dania Beach after he became vice mayor.
“I didn’t go on many trips,” Julian said. He explained that he is the chief caregiver for his 91-year-old mother and found it difficult to be away for “more than a day or two.”
Commissioners Michelle Lazarow and Anthony Sanders each had travel accounts of $10,000. Lazarow spent $2,527 and was reimbursed $7,473. Sanders spent $3,844 and got a check for $6,156.
Commissioner Leo Grachow, appointed to the commission in May to replace Lewy, spent $76 from a pro-rated $4,167 travel account. He received a payout of $4,091. Grachow lost a reelection bid this month to Keith London, who was sworn in Nov. 17 to replace Grachow on the commission.
Former Vice Mayor Lewy’s travel account for his seven months in office the past fiscal year was $8,750. He spent nearly $3,500 and got paid more than $5,200.
Excluding Cooper, the five commission members received payouts for unspent travel totaling $34,855, or 77.4 percent of their budgets totaling $45,000. Under federal laws, the travel payouts are considered income and taxable.
City commissioners received an annual salary of $22,378 last year. The travel payouts boosted the city income for Julian by 53 percent; Lazarow, 33 percent; and Sanders, 27 percent.
Sanders, who did not respond to requests for comment, joined with Julian and Lazarow in voting to approve the travel reimbursement policy in a 3-2 vote in July 2013. Cooper and Lewy were opposed.
Lazarow said via email that she now has some concerns about the policy and plans to ask the city commission to review it.
“In light of what has transpired since the policy was enacted, I do not believe the item [was] properly vetted, and as a result, I will be bringing this back for reconsideration in the near future,” Lazarow stated.
Meanwhile, the city commission will be operating under the same travel policy during the current fiscal year that began Oct. 1.