By Cecilia Chan, GSN Managing Editor
Everyone on Gilbert Town Council but the mayor is receiving smaller paychecks with the start of the new year.
The council last April approved cutting the annual salary for members to $21,012 from $24,239, effective Jan. 1. While council members’ pay was rolled back to what it was in 2008, the mayor’s pay was kept at $43,631 a year because her colleagues consider it a full-time job.
Officeholders also receive other benefits for work that includes setting policy, hiring a town manager to oversee day-to-day operations and adopting a spending plan for a growing town of 251,000 residents.
Some of those perks include health coverage, retirement benefits from the state’s Elected Officials Retirement Plan, a car and a communication allowance and reimbursement for work-related duties – all paid for with taxpayers’ money.
For the fiscal year 2017-18, which ended June 30, expenses of the seven-member council totaled $11,083.
Former Councilman Victor Petersen, whose term ended this month, was the member of council not to claim any reimbursements or reported any expenses paid for by the town during that fiscal year.
“Seven years ago when I joined the council, I could have gone for the $100 a month (communications allowance) for several years, but I didn’t sign up for that,” said Petersen, who is well-known for his frugality both in his personal life and his decisions on the council dais.
“I have a cell phone with unlimited minutes and don’t see the need for that,” added Petersen, who did sign up for the town’s health coverage but was the only member not to take a communication allowance.
“I was facing a pay cut at work because of time away from work,” explained Petersen, president of his family-owned VIP Homes. “It was a benefit I took advantage of.”
Gilbert offers council members and employees two medical plans to choose from that range in cost from $46.72 a month for an individual to $113.45 or more for family coverage. Dental and vision plans also available.
Petersen said he joined the state pension plan but tried to opt out of it and was told by town and the state attorneys he could not.
Under the state Elected Officials Retirement Plan, each elected official contributes 13 percent of their gross salary each pay period, in addition to contributions by the employer/town.
Petersen was one of four elected officials who did not take the monthly car allowance, joined by Eddie Cook, Ray Jordan and Jared Taylor.
For transportation reimbursements, council members can pick a monthly stipend for either 600 or 300 miles per month, use a town-owned vehicle or submit for mileage reimbursement, according to Hakon Johanson, finance and management services director.
Mayor Jenn Daniels’ monthly car stipend was $321 and Councilman Scott Anderson and Councilwoman Brigette Peterson each took the monthly car allowance of $160, town records show.
“I’ve never submitted for mileage,” Petersen said. “I’ve been to lot of events. If I have to go to places I don’t bill for mileage. I’m paid a salary and that is fine. I don’t need to nickel-and-dime the town to death.”
Although Petersen previously incurred expenses related to the annual League of Arizona Cities and Towns conferences, he opted out of going to the one in 2017 in Oro Valley. He had attended the conferences for the first three years when he was in office.
“It’s usually a large expenditure on behalf of the council to go,” he said. “I will be honest: I’m a bit dubious to the value to taxpayers for those events. I don’t want to be critical, there could be some value gained from that, but it seemed to be a networking opportunity for elected officials, which can have some value for taxpayers, too.”
As far as policy-making, the conferences have been light in that subject, he said.
Taylor, who often sided with Petersen on votes, also is frugal when it comes to seeking taxpayer-funded reimbursements for his work.
For instance, the two voted against the 2018-19 town budget and they both opposed putting a $65-million bond measure on last November’s ballot for a public safety training facility.
Taylor’s reported expenses totaled $810 – including $750 for his registration to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Forecast Luncheon and $60 in registration fee to attend the Mesa State of the City breakfast.
A total of $2,117 in expenses were reported by Cook, including $340 for lodging at Tucson El Conquistador Hilton during the annual League conference; $750 for registration to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Forecast Luncheon; $350 for a bronze table sponsorship to the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA Morning of Prayer event and $41.30 in per diem for the League conference.
Anderson’s expenses totaled $2,063 – which included $750 for registration to the Arizona Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Forecast Luncheon; $350 for a bronze table sponsorship to the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA Morning of Prayer event and $340.21 for lodging at Tucson El Conquistador Hilton to attend the annual League conference, which had a $295 registration fee.
Peterson, who held the ceremonial title of vice mayor during that fiscal year, incurred $1,535 in spending.
Her expense sheet included $350 for a bronze table sponsorship to the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA Morning of Prayer event; $340 for lodging at Tucson El Conquistador Hilton to attend the annual League conference; $295 registration fee to attend the League conference; $54 for two polo shirts and $106 for business cards.
Ray’s expenses totaled $732, which included a $295 registration fee for a league conference he left two days before it ended, $113 for conference lodgings and $53 reimbursement for a bag for a town computer.
Cook, Peterson and Anderson also each claimed $116 for travel reconciliation mileage reimbursement to the League conference while Ray and Daniels claimed $98 each.
The monthly stipend can’t be combined with mileage reimbursement requests for travel within the Phoenix Metro area but can be combined with travel outside the metro area, according to Johanson.
Daniels’ expenses for the fiscal year came to $3,598, according to town documents.
Of that amount, a little over $1,000 went for food – $190 to host a luncheon for East Valley mayors and $150 to Bergies Coffee Roast House for gift cards for town employees as appreciation during a staff financial retreat.
The mayor’s remaining food costs were reported as business-related meals, including $53 at Zinburger with Gilbert Public Schools Superintendent Shane McCord and council assistant Vicky Songer; $38 at Gecko Grill with Mesa Mayor John Giles and $55 at Zinburger with Jeff and Donna Ehrilch, Park University’s executive director and academic director, respectively.
The mayor’s food expenses also included $41 in per diem for a League conference.
Other expenses included $350 for a bronze table sponsorship for the Chandler/Gilbert YMCA Morning of Prayer event; $295 registration fee to attend a League conference; $465 to Prickly Pear Paper for town color prints and art design and $344 to that firm for custom stationary cards and envelops.
Petersen said he and his former peers all try to be careful with spending the public’s money.
“We are all on different levels of fiscal conservatism,” he said. “Jared and I are definitely the most penny-pitching council members around.”