COLUMBIA, SC — Richland County Council has gone the better part of a year without clearing up the rules on expense accounts after two members overspent their $7,000-a-year budgets.
The council rules committee has discussed the issue, on and off, since February but appears to have made little progress.
“I don’t think it’s a hot-button issue for anybody,” said Councilman Jim Manning, who said he has no apologies for using up his expense account to attend conferences on urban revitalization.
Manning overspent his expense account two years in a row, prompting the committee’s look at the issue.
He sits on the rules committee.
So does Councilwoman Gwendolyn Davis Kennedy, who also overspent her account.
The $7,000-a-year accounts are in addition to council salaries, which are increasing by nearly $3,300 come January. Members’ new salaries will be $17,777 a year.
Expense accounts are meant to reimburse members for business supplies, conferences and food, gas and travel related to county business.
Manning overspent his account by $38.86 one year and $1,131.96 the next.
Kennedy went into the red by $604.05 this past year.
Typically, issues are worked out in small committees before going to the full council for a vote.
Manning noted the rules committee typically meets once a month and the issue of expense accounts often falls to the bottom.
“I don’t hear anybody asking about it,” he said, “but I’m not the chair of the committee, and I certainly don’t have any sense of urgency. I’ve answered all the questions in my mind and actually I worked real hard for what I thought was a great compromise, an in-depth solution.”
At one point this past year, Manning suggested that members be allowed to carry over $700 from one year to the next, effectively increasing their accounts only in the following year. If council members overspent again, his proposal stipulated the county would garnish their wages to make up the difference.
But the idea was shot down by the council, which sent it back to committee for more work.
Councilman Greg Pearce said $7,000 a year should be enough to cover expenses.
Councilman Damon Jeter agreed.
“To me, it’s straightforward,” Jeter said. “It’s bad budgeting practice to knowingly overspend.”
Pearce said it’s time to resolve the matter.
“It would be good to start the year off fresh with that behind us,” he said.
Efforts to reach Councilman Bill Malinowski, who leads the rules committee, were unsuccessful Friday. But the issue is on his committee’s agenda again Dec. 11.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.