PLAQUEMINE — The Iberville Parish Council opened preliminary discussions of its 2013 fiscal year budget by placing a $4,000 cap on each council member’s travel allowance.
Council Chairman Matt Jewell said the council’s 7-4 vote Tuesday night to impose the cap on members’ travel spending was the first of its kind for the parish’s governing body.
Councilman Louis “Pete” Kelley said council members’ annual cost of traveling has gotten “way out of hand.”
Kelley’s comment came after the parish Financial Director Randall Dunn said it was difficult to determine what the council’s projected spending would be within the 2013 budget, based on recent increases in the past two years because of annual travel costs.
“I got councilmen taking $6,000 trips,” he said.
As of October, the council spent nearly $40,000 in 2012 travel expenses, according to a spreadsheet presented by the administration.
Individual travel tabs among councilmen, so far this year, ranged as high as $6,733 for Howard Oubre, and as low as $75 for Kelley, the spreadsheet shows.
“I’ve been to three of these different (conventions) and what you bring back to the parish is very little,” Kelley said. “With the times we’re in right now, I don’t think we need to be spending that kind of money traveling up and down the road.”
Jewell said that when he took over as council chairman three years ago, the council’s travel budget came to about $24,000 annually. Jewell said he had to transfer unused funds from other accounts to prevent the council from overspending its travel budget.
But the increase in travel expenses, Jewell added, wasn’t a result of councilman taking more trips to attend conventions.
Jewell told the council it was a reflection of rising travel costs.
“I feel that travel is a necessity. It’s very educational and you meet politicians from all over the world that can help you and give you good ideas,” Jewell said. “But I would like to see some type of cap put on it. We want to live within our means and be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money.”
The four councilmen — Kelly, Edwin Reeves, Timothy Vallet and Bart Morgan — who voted against the $4,000 limits did so after they couldn’t get the majority of the council to approve a substitute motion capping travel at $3,500 a year per councilman.
Councilman Leonard Jackson was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Jewell said Tuesday’s night vote is the first step toward the council’s future adoption of a travel policy.
After the meeting, Jewell said the council will revisit the issue in committee meetings in the next couple of months.