LAKE WORTH BEACH – Finances are tight in Lake Worth Beach, but city commissioners have spent nearly $ 39,000 in their $ 37 million fiscal operating budget on more than 30 trips.
It’s a small fraction of the total budget, but one trip in particular stands out. In June of this year, the mayor and commissioner spent $ 9,000 on a trip to Hawaii.
They attended the United States Conference of Mayors where Mayor Pam Triolo accepted an award for the city’s proposed Ocean Current Energy project and attended another energy conference.
Four months later, the trip has become a social media staple. On social media posts, townspeople argued on both sides of the issue.
“I’m a big fan of cutting some of the benefits of jobs rather than cutting jobs,” Tammy Pansa, a real estate agent, wrote on Facebook, referring to the layoffs of five city workers last month.
But fellow resident Lisa Lee said the expense suited her: “I’m fine with the trip, especially if it means more states will be able to use wave energy. Imagine how much money this could save!
At a recent committee meeting, Mayor Triolo defended the trip, saying: “I like the way they take things out of perspective.”
The debate on a trip, indeed, seems almost trivial in light of the past problems in front of the city.
A year ago, the town debated to change its name to Lake Worth Beach. The main challenges focused on the development of a new swimming pool at the water’s edge and in the city center. And then in September, the city slashed the budget’s payroll by $ 800,000 by eliminating 30 job vacancies and laying off the city librarian, a grants analyst and three other employees.
Travel costs are a cost that Triolo believes is reasonable and justified. The mayor spent $ 5,319 on trips to Hawaii and Tallahassee. She said she tried to cut spending, knowing the cost of the Hawaii conference would be high and subsequently skipped the National League of Cities winter meeting.
Triolo said she wanted to be at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Hawaii to receive an award and a network for the city’s ocean currents energy project. Mayors usually have their own budget.
“I am the city’s ambassador,” Triolo said. “There are places I should go where I am not.
The city sets aside $ 37,500 in travel expenses for its five commissioners, including the mayor – $ 10,000 for registration fees and $ 27,500 for flights, hotels and rental cars. Meals are not included.
City Commissioner Andy Amoroso spent the most, accounting for over $ 12,000. City Commissioner Scott Maxwell followed, spending $ 7,412 primarily on legislative trips to Washington, DC and Tallahassee.
Omari Hardy spent $ 4,801 on trips to Louisville, Kentucky, and Tallahassee. Commissioner Herman Robinson spent the least, $ 2,930 for a conference, $ 10,000 less than Amoroso. Robinson made a trip to Louisville for the New Town Planning Congress.
Meanwhile, the budget commission adopted in late September includes $ 800,000 in pay cuts, five layoffs and the elimination of popular programs such as monthly block parties.
Amoroso and Maxwell declined to comment on the travel budget.
The mayor should have a few more trips than other commissioners, said Katy Sorenson, former founder and CEO of the University of Miami’s Center for Good Government, Miami County commissioner and currently a fellow of Florida State University.
“I think it’s important that elected officials go to Tallahassee and talk to their state officials, because often state officials have no idea what’s going on in municipalities,” said Sorenson.
“It’s money well spent for the city.”
And $ 40,000 “isn’t that great” for a travel budget, Sorenson said.
The Village of Wellington is allocating $ 18,000 for its council travel budget. Jupiter’s total commission budget is $ 5,000. Riviera Beach, of a similar size, has set $ 41,500 in travel costs for the city commission and the mayor’s office.
Sorenson recommends that the city split the budget, with the mayor getting a little more money than the commissioners. But, Hawaii may not have been the best networking movement, Sorenson admitted.
The optics of city travel to destinations like Hawaii, Las Vegas and others have come under intense scrutiny in recent years, even at the national level. In 2012, the Obama administration issued a memorandum demanding that all federal agencies reduce their spending on conferences, travel and other “administrative costs” by 30%.
The memorandum resulted in a more serious review of government spending, but was also released by hotels that profit from the conferences.
Sorenson said staying at a beachfront resort or casino while laying off workers and cutting library hours might not be the best trip this year.
“Maybe they could have set up some other kind of network in Lower 48,” Sorenson said.
“In difficult circumstances, Hawaii can be a bit extravagant. The optics aren’t good on this one, although they’ve learned a lot.