Kings County will overhaul how it deals with staff travel, making the process “softer” and less complicated, the Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.
Finance Department Director Jim Erb said department heads have frequently asked for the process to be changed, often getting into lengthy disputes about small values associated with travel expenses.
“I noticed when I first got here that there were a lot of disputes over small amounts, paperwork that hadn’t been turned in, claims being held, and staff was spending a lot of time on it,” Erb said. “What I’ve done to this policy is just make it softer, a little simpler and eliminate some processes that I felt weren’t adding any value.”
While the County will still work to make sure staff isn’t abusing the system and misusing funds, Erb said travel for the County isn’t the luxury people may think it is. Staff is often inconvenienced by travel for the County, often needing to find childcare or other accommodations, he said.
One of the major changes is more flexibility for department heads and the Finance Department in approving travel and allocating funds.
Previously, departments had to present their travel budget approved by the Board along with the annual budget and if those funds were depleted for the year any travel request had to be denied by the department, Erb said, even if they had available funds in other parts of their budget.
With the change to the process, departments will be able to reallocate money from other parts of their internal budget to accommodate travel when necessary.
The Finance Department was also not able to approve travel requests with lodging costs over 200%, or twice the General Service Administration rate. Erb said while that rate usually covers lodging, in some cases the lodging which would be the most effective is slightly more expensive.
For example, he said a few staff members put in a travel request for a conference in Monterey. Because of impacts on lodging rates caused by the pandemic, he said the rate at the convention hotel was above the GSA rate, but it would be best for staff to stay there to network and access other benefits of the conference.
The department will now be able to approve budgets that go an additional 50% over the GSA rate in qualifying circumstances.
When the County is owed refunds by staff who receive travel funds but must return them for some reason, like trip cancellation, the cost will now be taken out of their paycheck after a certain period of trying to recover the funds without success.
Finance will also now only have to directly approve travel for those asking for a cash advance instead of a per diem reimbursement. All other travel will be approved by the staff’s respective department.
The Board approved a contract with Bedrock Engineering for surveying services required for work on more than 15 miles of road in the county. Public Works Director Dominic Tyburski said construction will begin within the next two weeks and be done in around two months.
Supervisor Richard Valle attended the meeting in person for the first time since September 2020. He said he has been working remotely for many months and attending required board and committee meetings virtually.