110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
Reimbursement for travel to be discussed at Dec. 5 meeting
By Pat Andrews
posted Nov 28, 2012 - 8:58:51am
When he was elected in 2008, DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia declined the job's $600-a-month paycheck, but he has collected more than $250 a month during the past two years in mileage reimbursements, mostly for driving around DeBary to meet with constituents.
Garcia was paid $6,264.70 for expenses turned in between September 2010 and September 2012. He claimed more than 6,000 miles per year.
The reimbursements — more than three times the amount claimed by any other City Council member — prompted the DeBary City Council to call for a policy on mileage payments. That policy will be discussed at the 7 p.m. meeting Wednesday, Dec. 5, at DeBary City Hall, 16 Colomba Road.
Garcia said he won't attend, because of family plans.
Of the flap over mileage, the mayor said, "I have no comments on it at all." He added, "However the council votes, it's on them."
The discussion of Garcia's mileage arose Nov. 7. That City Council meeting featured a presentation by Council Member Lita Handy-Peters that was critical of the mayor on many points, including his public disagreements with City Council decisions, as well as his mileage. After her presentation, City Council members ordered an investigation of Garcia's reimbursements.
The Beacon examined $5,035.60 in mileage vouchers turned in by Garcia between September 2010 and August 2012. City Manager Dan Parrott was reviewing an additional $1,229.10 of vouchers for 2010 that The Beacon didn't study.
The vouchers examined by The Beacon showed Garcia claimed 135 trips to Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8093, on the south end of DeBary, during the two-year period. Trips to DeBary Diner totaled 101, plus 97 trips to the Four Townes Moose Lodge on Benson Junction Road.
Distances to specific locations were not shown on the vouchers, but were included in a grand total of trips for the day that might include the DeBary Diner, the Moose Lodge, the VFW and American Legion, as well as trips to Fort Florida Road, Dirksen Drive, Glen Abbey, city parks, and the like.
When a reason was stated, trips were to "plan future events," "SunRail," "service for vet," to inspect stormwater work, or to discuss sign ordinances or other city business.
Garcia visited the Lil' Sammy Food Mart at 600 South U.S. Highway 17-92 on 41 occasions to discuss SunRail. He claimed 29 trips to the City Hall complex, and made 31 trips to the Orange City Nursing and Rehab Center in DeBary on veterans-related business.
Some trips to Orlando and other Volusia County cities to attend mayors' meetings, Volusia Council of Governments meetings and SunRail meetings were also listed.
Also listed were trips to the polling place during the August primaries to check voting in DeBary. Mileage for trips to Easter egg hunts and Mother's Day events were also submitted and reimbursed.
At the Nov. 7 meeting, City Council Member Dan Hunt criticized Garcia for billing the city for trips to the Moose Lodge and DeBary Diner, which Hunt didn't consider to be for city business.
"All the meetings were justified," Garcia said.
He said he was called by the organizations to attend meetings, and met at DeBary Diner with people who didn't want to meet at City Hall.
Hunt said the mayor should not serve as a city representative to boards and commissions unless the activity was approved by the City Council, and the expense budgeted.
The measure to approve an investigation of the mayor's expenses was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Garcia opposed.
He told the council members if they wanted to limit mileage, "fine."
How does Garcia's mileage compare to that of the other council members?
During the same period, Vice Mayor Chris Carson submitted $445.96 in requests for reimbursement for travel to Florida League of Cities conferences in Hollywood and Orlando, plus another meeting to attend the Oversight Committee for Public School Facility Planning. He was appointed to these duties by the City Council.
Council Member Hunt turned in no vouchers for mileage or travel expenses.
Council Member Nick Koval submitted $1,969.69 for trips to various meetings of committees to which he was appointed by the City Council.
Council Member Handy-Peters, who was elected last year, submitted a bill for $403.77 to attend a class for newly elected officials and to attend a Florida League of Cities conference in Hollywood.
These council members receive $400 per month in pay; Garcia hasn't taken a paycheck during his four years as mayor.
George Coleman, the mayor before Garcia, said he remembers charging mileage to attend Volusia Council of Governments meetings in Daytona Beach once a month or so, but didn't recall any other charges.
Garcia's reimbursements far exceed those of Mayor Bob Apgar of DeLand.
Apgar told The Beacon he submits somewhere in the neighborhood of $600 a year for mileage reimbursement. These are for trips outside Volusia County, to meetings in Orlando or to Tallahassee. According to its policy, DeLand does not pay Apgar or any other city commissioner for driving expenses inside Volusia County.
Apgar, whose mayoral salary is about $15,000 a year, said he would attend many local events even if he weren't mayor, so he doesn't worry about the mileage.
At the Nov. 7 meeting, Handy-Peters suggested DeBary adopt a similar policy of not reimbursing mileage for in-town trips. She suggested limiting the reimbursements to travel only to meetings approved by the City Council, and only for trips more than 25 miles away from town.
The mileage-reimbursement rate paid by DeBary has varied during the period studied by The Beacon. The rate was 50 cents per mile in 2010, then went up to 51 cents per mile, then to 55.5 cents per mile beginning in June 2011, in accordance with IRS rules.
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