County travel policy sends clear message

The Johnson County Board of Commissioners has adopted clear guidelines about employee travel expenses. Such a move will make it easier for employees to determine what expenses will be reimbursed and which won’t, ultimately saving taxpayer dollars.

The commissioners decided to update travel policies for county employees after reviewing recent claims for reimbursement for flights and hotel rooms from training or conferences. In some cases, the conferences were as far as California, and commissioners questioned the necessity, and other claims were for hotel rooms in Indianapolis, when employees could have driven home instead of staying overnight.

“I just felt like the way it sat right now, it’s just not fair,” Commissioner Brian Baird said. “It’s not fair to the taxpayer; it’s not fair to us.”

Under the new rules, which go into effect June 1:

  • Out-of-state trips will not be paid for unless approved by the commissioners.
  • If similar training is provided in-state, out-of-state trips will not be reimbursed.
  • Hotels will not be paid for unless the training is more than 50 miles away from their home or the courthouse in Franklin, whichever is closer.

If employees want to stay at nearby conferences later for optional training sessions, social events or networking with other professionals, the employees would pay for their own hotel room.

Meals will be capped at $35 per day. After the trip, employees have to provide receipts. As before, alcohol will not be covered.

Under the previous policy, county employees could have their travel costs for out-of-state training or conferences paid by tax dollars without commissioners’ approval.

Instead, out-of-state travel must be approved by the commissioners ahead of time so they can deem if the trip is worthy of being paid for with taxpayers’ money. And, if that same training is available somewhere in Indiana, the out-of-state travel will not be reimbursed.

Conferences and training can sometimes be mandated by the state, but in the past some of the trips that employees have taken weren’t required.

Baird said, “I have no problem with training and certifications that we have to have for our jobs.”

Without a clear policy it is hard for local governments to control spending on out-of-town trips. We think the Johnson County commissioners made the right move in developing clear rules that spell out what expenses will be covered and which won’t. The result will be of benefit to employees and ultimately taxpayers.

At issue

Without clear guidelines, it is hard for county employees to know what travel expenses will be reimbursed.

Our point

The Johnson County commissioners have adopted a common sense set of guidelines that should make clear which expenses will be covered and which won’t.