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Seven commissioners back out of training trip to Gatlinburg

Questions about the Washington County Commission’s travel budget during the May 28 meeting revealed different opinions regarding what commissioners should have to pay out of pocket for training.
Commissioner Mark Ferguson gave a breakdown of costs per commissioner.
“Any way you slice it, the cost is $1,000 to go to Memphis, $500 to Nashville and $250 to Gatlinburg,” he said. “We have always funded $10,000 for travel (for commissioners to attend training).”
Fellow commissioners reminded Ferguson that budget cuts over the last couple of years have reduced that figure to $3,000, which was the amount approved for the 2012-2013 county commission travel budget.
Budget Committee members drew the line during their May meeting on the request for an additional $7,000 for commission travel — $2,000 to cover the amount the line item has already been exceeded by and $5,000 more for 10 commissioners to attend the Tennessee County Services Association meeting June 4-5 in Gatlinburg.
Members voted to pay the $700 in registration fees for the conference, but left the cost of hotel rooms, food and mileage to the commissioners.
Ten commissioners were originally signed up to attend the Gatlinburg event — Greg Matherly, Sam Humphreys, Alpha Bridger, Lee Chase, Richard Matherly, Mike Ford, Roger Nave, Ben Bowman, Steve Light and David Shanks.
Following the Budget Committee’s funding decision, Richard Matherly, Nave and Shanks were the only commissioners who had not canceled their plans to attend.
“I’m not going to pay for my own travel,” Bridger said during last week’s commission meeting. “If it’s important for us to attend, the cost should be covered.”
Although not signed up for the Gatlinburg trip, Commissioner Phyllis Corso agreed. She said commissioners need to advocate for a bigger travel budget.
Funds in the line item for travel are in addition to the $112,500 in the salaries and wages line that pays each commissioner $375 per month for their service.
While some argued for a larger travel budget, Commissioner Ken Lyon posed another mode of operation for commission training.
“How much sense does it make to send 25 people and pay all the costs?” he asked. “Most organizations have a chair and a vice chair who go and bring (the information) back to the other members.”
Under the current commission policy, trips are optional for the full commission with no limit on the number who can attend. An average of 25 percent of the commissioners takes part in each trip.
During last week’s meeting, commissioners approved a resolution to transfer $2,828 from the commission’s insurance line item to cover the deficit and the registration fees for the Gatlinburg conference. The transfer includes $700 for registration fees despite seven of the commissioners dropping out of the trip.