Dining on your dime: Snowmass food expenses include dog food, $110-a-head dinners
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” Snowmass government employees spent $71,338 in public funds on food last year, including a $110-a-head-dinner for event planners in Denver, numerous employee meetings and $1,800 for dog food and bones at the town’s animal shelter.
The most popular establishments for town employees to charge food expenses were at relatively frugal establishments: Taster’s Pizza ($6,087), Spencer’s ($8,235), Fuel ($2,738), Village Market ($8,232) and City Market ($5,242).
However, town employees were not entirely immune to dining at fancier establishments. Throughout 2008, employees charged meals four times at Il Poggio Ristorante ($311), once at Butch’s Lobster Bar ($717), eight times at The Artisan Restaurant ($1,014) and 30 times at Sage at the Snowmass Club ($2,507).
The single largest expenditure to buy food for town employees was a nearly $6,000 charge at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs to pay for a holiday dinner for town employees and the Snowmass Town Council.
The town also spent nearly $5,200 for a dinner at The Artisan to honor those who had served on boards and commissions.
Town employees also charged a number of smaller meals, usually citing meetings, celebrations or appreciation as the justification.
For example, Town Manager Russ Forrest charged roughly $450 for seven meals at Sage at the Snowmass Club throughout the year. Purposes for the meals, according to town records, included lunch with Snowmass Sun Editor Madeleine Osberger ($53), a staff lunch to celebrate employee Lynn Schorr’s last day ($90), and a meeting with Mayor Bill Boineau just after his election ($40).
Other charges included an $82 employee recognition dinner at the Mountain Dragon charged by Police Chief Art Smythe, $196 in police charges at The Artisan and Mountain Dragon for officers working at Snowmass concerts last summer, $40 at the Sage at Snowmass Club for a road budget meeting, and $114 at the Hickory House for a public works staff meeting.
Of the $71,000 the town spent on food in 2008, roughly $19,000 went toward public meetings and events, according to Forrest. That number includes everything from meals at the public input sessions for the town’s comprehensive plan to celery sticks and soda for council members to munch on during their dinner-time meetings. Unlike in Basalt and Aspen, Snowmass council members are not provided taxpayer-bought meals during their meetings.
Other food expenditures include:
– $19,500 on for employee meetings and trainings;
– About $1,800 on dog food and bones for the shelter at the police station;
– $1,800 on office food-related supplies such as tea or coffee;
– About $700 spent by the housing department;
– About $500 spent by the recreation department on candy and food to sell at the Snowmass Recreation Center;
– Roughly $8,600 spent by the town marketing department, and about $19,400 spent by the nine-member group sales department.
The latter expenditures highlight what Forrest argues is an oddity in the Snowmass government: that marketing and group sales departments exist within the town government. Thus, their expenditures to woo clients are included in an accounting of food expenditures for the town.
For example, of the 43 meals charged at higher-end establishments in 2008, 27 were charged by employees in the marketing, special events or group sales departments.
This sector also made some of the largest single food charges in 2008.
In April, group sales coordinator Kiesha Techau charged $7,125 at Denver’s Pallettes restaurant, in two installments, to pay for an $110-a-head reception for Denver event planners. Jim O’Leary, the town’s national sales manager for the western United States and Colorado, said the event aimed to advertise the Snowmass Conference Center and combat rumors that construction had shut the town down. With contacts from the event, O’Leary booked two events in June that will fill a total of 800 nights at Snowmass hotels, he said.
In September, Techau charged $5,500 at Woodruff Arts, in two installments, to pay for a $90-a-head reception in Atlanta to “sell” Snowmass to event planners. Mark Viola, the national sales manager who planned the event, said the event helped him make new contacts and rebook the American College of Rheumatology, longtime Snowmass conference-goers.
Forrest argued that such expenditures by group sales are necessary to bring business to the town.
“That’s just what the business does,” he said. “It’s what ACRA [Aspen Chamber of Commerce and Resort Association] does.”
Ceasing spending on things like meals could hurt the department’s ability to attract groups, added Susan Hamley, director of marketing, special events and group sales.
“It’s not excessive spending,” she said. “In fact, we should be doing more of it.”
To pay for purchases, about 42 percent of Snowmass employees have purchase cards, Forrest said.
The purchase cards, known as p-cards, come with some restrictions. Employees are not allowed to buy alcohol or gas for private vehicles. (Employees are given a per diem for meals and reimbursed 50.5 cents per mile for travel in a private vehicle.)
Employees also are required to provide receipts and supporting documentation ” including the reason for the charge and the people involved.
The town does not have a specific budget for food expenditures, Forrest said. Instead, food expenditures are a line item in larger budgets ” like employee training.
Nonetheless, expect to see Snowmass food expenses slashed in 2009. About $10,000 was recently cut from the town budget by eliminating the board and commissions appreciation dinner and the annual holiday party.
Cuts to other departmental accounts will also likely result in decreased spending on food this year, Forrest said.
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