A trip last week to Washington, D.C., by Franklin County Commissioners Tim Brinker and Dave Hinson cost county taxpayers more than $3,300 even though only $734 was available in the commission budget.

According to county records, the remaining $2,633 for the trip was borrowed from the yearly budgets of the county counselor and purchasing department.

The records show $2,000 was transferred from the county counselor’s contractual services and the remaining funds of $633 from the purchasing department.

As part of a program initiated by the Donald Trump administration, county commissioners from all over the country are being invited to Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives from multiple federal agencies.

Brinker

Although more receipts may still be coming, thus far First District Commissioner Tim Brinker has submitted receipts of $690 and $571 for hotel and airfare and on additional $162 for meals and incidentals.

Brinker confirmed there weren’t sufficient funds in the commission budget and says the cost of the last-minute trip was approved by the commission.

He also defends the expenses compared to the valuable contacts made that were never known or available before.

“Anyone who questions the trip can approach us at any time,” Brinker said. “To give justification to accusations we borrowed money to pay for the trip is absurd. We simply transferred funds to pay for the late-notice trip.”

He added a value can’t be put on the direct access the county will now have to dozens of federal offices.

“We now have direct phone numbers and emails,” Brinker said. “I don’t know if you can put a value on it. The entire reason for the county meetings was for President Trump to have info from the ground level.”

Brinker added if he was given the choice to go again he would.

“I would recommend this to anyone in our business,” he said. “It’s a direct pipeline.”

Hinson

Second District Commissioner Dave Hinson said the value of the trip far outweighs the minimal cost now and will pay for itself in the long run.

Hinson has submitted two purchase orders for hotel and airfare of $734 and $162 for meals and incidentals, totaling $896.

“The only thing the county paid for was my airfare and hotel,” Hinson said. “Hotels are very expensive in Washington, D.C. The small amount it cost us is well worth it. We were able to use money from unencumbered accounts the commission is in control of.”

Hinson added any business owner knows it costs money to grow.

County Rates

In June, the commission unanimously increased the county lodging and reimbursement rates from $125 to $150 per night, including all applicable taxes.

According to the commission order, in the event lodging is to be greater than $150 plus tax, the person desiring the lodging must obtain advance approval from at least one commissioner.

In February, meals and incidental reimbursements while on official business for the county were set at $54 per day.

The commission order states that all elected officials and employees shall be entitled to the per diem meal allowance while on official business for the county, unless meals are included as part of the meeting.

The per diem allowance is also intended to cover the cost of gratuities and other incidental expenses, excluding alcoholic beverages.

The commission order also set mileage reimbursement at 53 cents per mile.

Trip

Since taking office, the president has encouraged both government and private sector leaders to meet with his intergovernmental affairs office.

This trip was coordinated by the special assistant to the president and deputy director of the intergovernmental affairs office, Billy Kirkland.

In August, county commissioners from Michigan were the first to attend the public policy conference linking the Trump administration directly to local governments.

Since that time, commissioners from battleground states Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida also have made the trip to Washington, D.C.

Budget

According to the 2017 Franklin County budget, $1,000 is budgeted for each county commissioner for mileage and fuel expenses.

An additional $2,500 was budgeted for business expenses.