Commissioners to look at revised travel policy

Benton County's revised travel policy is being revised again.

Commissioners voted in May to update the county's policy to require that county employees would have to travel at least 60 miles to be eligible for their expenses to be reimbursed.

The changes approved then eliminated per diem pays and tightened the rules on providing receipts for expenses, but some county employees had problems with the 60-mile exclusion zone.

Loretta Smith-Kelty, deputy county administrator, said the no-expenses-allowed zone was in the middle of nowhere.

Employees going to a meeting for county business in Walla Walla or Moses Lake would have to pay for their own meals and lodging if they chose not to return late from a night session.

Based on feedback about the 60-mile rule, Smith-Kelty is proposing the exclusion zone be egg-shaped rather than a circular. That would put Moses Lake and Ellensburg just outside the line and allow county employees to dine at taxpayer expense in those cities.

But Yakima, Goldendale and Pendleton will remain in the no-expenses-allowed zone if commissioners adopt the revised travel policy.

Smith-Kelty wasn't ready to present the revisions to the commissioners last week. But Commissioner Shon Small said he plans to bring up the issue at Tuesday's workshop in Prosser.

Small said his concern about the travel policy goes back to when he worked as a county sheriff's deputy.

Sheriff's department employees had to travel beyond 50 miles before being able to claim expenses, while other county employees could collect per diem of $50 even if their expenses were inside Benton County.

Small said he also noticed that per diem often was far more than actual expenses, allowing employees to pocket the difference.

The revised travel policy will correct those situations, he said.

"Now employees have to bring back actual receipts, and there will be no expenses allowed for training in Benton and Franklin counties," Small said.

The revised travel policy also eliminates a long-held practice of giving elected county officials a more generous per diem, amounting to 15 percent more than for other county employees.

Commissioner Leo Bowman said updating the travel policy was appropriate, considering that it hadn't been done in a while.

Commissioner Jim Beaver was out of town and could not be reached Friday about the travel policy.