Toss the receipt, phone bill allowance could return

LIHUE — The Salary Commission approved a resolution last week to reinstate an annual $6,000 cell phone and car allowance  to each Kauai County Council member, but it would only affect the council after the next elections.

Resolution 2013-1 also confirms the same allowance to the mayor, and gun-cleaning and uniform allowances to some high-ranking public safety officers.

Until recently, council members were getting a $500 monthly allowance for cell phone and car use  — a stipend they’d authorized themselves.

But in May, Finance Director Steve Hunt changed the allowance to a reimburse-as-you-go policy, capped at the same amount.

The change was because under the old program, councilors were approving their own allowances when they approved the budge, essentially rubber stamping their own increases.

“Since May, I said that’s got to be reimbursable,” county Finance Director Steve Hunt said, calling the former allowance set up as the “fox guarding the hen house.”

“That’s not right,” Hunt said. “That’s why I kicked it back (to the commission) and said, ‘You have to submit a reimbursement until Salary Commission — who is the authorizing authority — says you can have an allowance.’”  

Now, the change would go back to a lump sum allowance, but would be authorized by the Salary Commission, not the council.

Hunt said the question was not whether council members deserve the allowance, but who authorizes it. The same applies to the mayor, because the administration submits the annual county budget to the council for approval. The change would go into effect after November’s election, affecting the new body.

But since the switch in May where councilors had to provide a receipt to receive the money, Hunt said he has only received one $70 cell phone reimbursement request from a council member who uses a separate cell phone just for council business.

A car-expense reimbursement request could be on the way shortly, and other requests could still be pending, Hunt added.

The flat allowance would also include a $500 cell phone and car monthly allowance to the mayor. But Hunt said Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. has not been taking his car allowance.

Each year, the commission has until March 15 to send a salary resolution to the council. Upon receiving the resolution, the council can amend, approve or deny it. The resolution becomes effective after 60 days if the council doesn’t take any action.

Other counties in the state, meanwhile, have different rules for car and cell phone allowances — some that come in less than what officials are recommending in Kauai.

In Honolulu, the mayor uses a county vehicle but doesn’t have a cell phone allowance, while council members receive a $300 vehicle allowance and their cell phone charges are reimbursed.

Maui’s mayor is reimbursed for mileage on a personal vehicle, and uses either a county-owned cell phone or receives a $30 reimbursement on a personal phone.

On the Big Island, the mayor receives a $600 car allowance and up to $75 a month for cell phone use. Council members can choose between a $500 car allowance or mileage reimbursement, and they receive up to $75 for cell phone use.

Back in Kauai, the resolution approved last week also gives the Kauai Police Department chief and the deputy chief shall  a uniform and gun allowance, which currently is $300 for uniform and $420 for gun cleaning, annually.

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