Pitkin County food bills give Aspen a run for its tummy
Editors note: This is the final installment of a three-part series looking at how local governmental entities spend tax dollars on food and meals. Todays article focuses on Pitkin County.
PITKIN COUNTY In the past two years, Pitkin County employees spent more than $85,000 in food purchases through the use of a purchasing card or p-card in more than 1,300 transactions.Another $17,300 worth of meal costs was handed to employees as bonuses in the form of $20 gift cards.On top of that, a total of $55,600 was paid out to employees as per diem food expenses in 2008, and roughly the same amount was paid out in 2007, county officials said. The county pays a per diem of $11 for breakfast, $16 for lunch and $27 for dinner to employees who are on approved work-related trips out of town.The estimated total in food expenses paid out by the county for 2007 and 2008 was $213,000.In addition, over the same two-year period, the county spent more than $31,000 on employee appreciation parties, at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood Springs in 2007 and at the St. Regis in Aspen in 2008.The City of Aspen, over the same two years, spent more than $250,000 on employee meals, taking into account only the p-card system, according to a series of stories in The Aspen Times.By contrast, two other local municipalities, Basalt and The Town of Snowmass Village, spent approximately $11,700 and $71,000, respectively, on employee meals in 2008, according to figures published in The Aspen Times.County Manager Hilary Fletcher, while confidently defending the spending as necessary to the countys performance of its duties, said that nevertheless, the budget for meals and food is being scrutinized for possible cuts, as are all county expenditures.All of it is going to be re-examined, she said, as the county works to trim any fat it can from the 2009 budget and prepare for similar work on the budget for 2010.She said all departments, which submit estimates for travel and food expenses as well as other line items, have been directed to evaluate every bit of spending for the coming couple of years in light of the deepening national recession.According to figures provided by county finance director John Redmond, of the countys 240 or so employees, around 160 used p-cards at a wide variety of restaurants in Aspen, other towns in the Roaring Fork Valley and beyond.Some local eateries seemed to be regular stops for county workers.According to Redmonds figures, county staffers spent a total of $5,971.09 at Asie in the last two years, in a total of 45 transactions, for an average per-transaction cost of slightly more than $132. Of that amount, $1,940 was spent using the $20 bonus certificates.At Jour de Fete, Redmond said, the county managers office alone appears to have spent $7,749.25 on working lunches that involved sit-downs for several workers at a time.All told, the county racked up $13,908.38 in 72 charges at Jour de Fete, including one Jan. 9, 2007 charge of $540, assessed to the p-card of County Clerk and Recorder Janice Vos.Other local restaurants that catered to the countys collective hunger included The Aspen Bar & Grill, Bagel Bites, Bentleys, Boogies Diner, Brunelleschis and the Butchers Block to list just the restaurants that start with the letter, B.At the Cantina on Aspens Main Street, a popular hangout for county staff, the charges came to $4,918.07, including $1,400 in bonus certificates, and at Cecilys at the Aspen Business Center, employees spent $2,547.89, including $1,800 in certificates.At the other end of the alphabet, county employees spent just over $6,000 in 27 visits to Zele Cafe, of which $2,100 was paid for using the $20 bonus certificates, while the Village Smithy in Carbondale took in $3,446.55 for meals, $3,000 of it in $20 certificates.Smoke Modern BBQ in Basalt was the venue for a retirement party that cost the county $168.10, while Russos Pizza in Glenwood Springs rang up $1,006.72 in charges over nine transactions, of which $820 was paid for using the $20 certificates. At El Pollo Rico in Carbondale, Pitkin County hosted a gathering of some 40 members of the Colorado Association of Librarians, for a tab of $1,299.01.Some expenditures for food were actually public giveaways, such as $200 at the now-defunct Ben & Jerrys Ice Cream parlor for a summer reading program at the Pitkin County Library.A total of $25,531.24 was spent at various grocery stores in the valley in 595 transactions contained in 15 pages of spread sheets. The stores involved included City Markets in Aspen and other valley towns, as well as Clarks Market in Aspen, Village Market in Snowmass Village, Alpine Mountain Market, Safeway and the Wal-Mart in Glenwood Springs. Some of the expenditures were for parties to which the public was invited, some were for in-house celebrations, and some were for meetings, according to Redmond and Fletcher.According to Redmonds compilation of records, the grocery tabs were for employee meals associated with virtually all the different departments within the county, ranging from the jail to the library to Open Space and Trails to Health and Human Services; from the airport to community development, the sheriffs office to roads and bridges, envinronmental health to public works, and more.Some charges apparently were to buy the $20 gift certificates, at the grocery stores as well as at restaurants, recorded on receipts that sometimes got as high as several hundred dollars, such as a purchase by the Building and Maintenance Department at the Butchers Block on Dec. 24, 2008, for $200 worth.County employees and officials can range fairly far afield in their duties, said Redmond and Fletcher, as evidenced by charges at such disparate locations as the Air Chef in Worthington, Ohio, where employees rang up 19 charges valued at $772.15, and the Airport Hilton Cafe at Atlanta, Georgia ($99.17 for one meal), or the Biscotti Restaurant in Reno, Nevada ($53.17 for one meal).There also were charges at numerous restaurants around the state, from Grand Junction (Rockslide Brew Pub, $87.90 in two transactions) to Leadville (Rosies Brewpub, one meal for $45.32), and many different locations in the Denver metro area.We have a lot of obligations that take us to Denver, Fletcher explained. Counties are more regionally based [than municipalities]. A lot of our work is based on collaborations with other jurisdictions. Some of the issues involved include highways and transportation, water laws, and regional planning efforts, she said.Fletcher said the county cut back its food and meals budget in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. and the subsequent economic downturn experienced around the country.We cut meals for a lot of our boards, and employees, she recalled, as part of the countys broader effort to trim $1.2 million from its budget in response to a slump in tourist visits and a consequent decline in sales tax receipts.And the county is likely to cut its spending for meals and food again as officials look for ways to save money in the current recession, she said.I fully expect staff to make adjustments both in its 2009 meals spending and for the 2010 budget year, she said.The countys food expenditures, according to Fletcher and Redmond, is governed by a policy that states: Food and meal purchases are regularly the responsibility of the employee. Pitkin County does not provide food or meals for employee[s] except in certain situations, such as Roard and Bridge or county airport personnel called out for work that is not part of their regular schedule.After reviewing the records provided to The Aspen Times by Redmond, Fletcher said, I didnt see any flagrant abuses. Im not uncomfortable with it. Its a matter of the type of business that we do.She said spending has stayed level, proportionately, with the cuts made in 2002, and is below what it has been in some years since she started as a receptionist for the county 21 years firstname.lastname@example.org
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