County trims down on purchase card meals
ASPEN – Pitkin County employees aren’t eating as much as they used to on the taxpayers’ dime.
That’s according to county finance director John Redmond, who told commissioners Tuesday that staffers spent $12,026 on meals during March, April and May – nearly half as much as the same period last year, when they doled out $23,958 on food.
“I’m happy to report that it’s 50 percent less than last year,” Redmond said. “A lot more discretion is being used.”
Commissioners, during a work session with county officials, were given an overview of the county’s approach and policy regarding purchasing cards, more commonly referred to as p-cards. The meeting came after this newspaper did a series of articles in March that focused on the p-card spending patterns of local governmental entities.
Redmond, along with County Manager Hilary Fletcher, told commissioners that employees are being more careful when it comes to using the p-cards, which function like a debit or credit card, for meals.
Of the county’s 242 employees, 160 have p-cards, Redmond said. That statistic had Commissioner Jack Hatfield wondering out loud why more than 60 percent of the county’s payroll have p-cards.
“I just don’t get why it’s necessary,” he said.
Fletcher said it’s up to department heads to determine who gets p-cards. She added that all types of workers, from those who work for the jail to those at the landfill, often need them for routine work purposes.
“It is in the normal course of some jobs to make transactions,” Fletcher said.
Added Commissioner Patti Clapper: “Some people go months without using them.”
Redmond, through a memo to the commissioners, reported that the county now averages $3.5 million annually in p-card expenses. The p-cards save the county $200,000 a year -or $23.70 per transaction – because of the costs saved by not writing checks. Costs associated with checks include buying, approving and reconciling them, Fletcher noted.
But it was the money spent on food that got the most attention from commissioners – including whether they should bring their own meals to lunch-hour meetings or let the county buy them.
Clapper said during working lunches for commissioners, “we should be fed.”
“The public didn’t elect us to eat on their dime,” Hatfield said.
Replied Clapper: “Then let’s have an hour break for lunch.”
While that disagreement was put on hold, Commissioner Rachel Richards argued that the county should spend money on food when it comes to farewell or anniversary parties for employees, for example.
Those types of expenses are good for morale and go a long way toward team building, Richards said.
“You can’t put a price on that,” she said. “It shows that we respect [the employee’s job performance].”
Hatfield said he was pleased that the county has cut down on its food expenses, but hopes when the economy recovers that the current mindset towards p-card spending remains.
“Even when the economy gets better I hope we don’t get soft on this,” he said.
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