Charlotte City Council travel costs topped $120,000 in 2014

The Charlotte City Council and the mayor’s office had $121,654 in travel and in-town expenses last year, according to an Observer review of city records.

Most of the expenses were for trips, such as the Charlotte Chamber’s $3,125 per-person trip to Minneapolis, which was attended last year by seven council members.

The city is in the midst of its largest budget shortfall in recent memory after the General Assembly repealed the Business Privilege License Tax and the countywide property revaluation decreased property tax revenue to the city. The gap is more than $20 million, which is about 3.6 percent of the general fund budget.

City Manager Ron Carlee has said the city will consider cuts large and small in order to have a balanced budget. The city will likely have a wage freeze for the upcoming fiscal year, and travel for city staff members could be reduced.

It’s possible there could be a property tax increase, reductions in services or layoffs as a last resort.

At Wednesday’s budget meeting, council member Al Austin suggested looking at reducing council’s travel expenses. But there wasn’t a consensus on whether to do that, and it’s unclear if that will happen.

At-large council member Vi Lyles, who has a little more than $11,000 in expenses, said Austin’s suggestion was worth pursuing.

“We should be leading by example,” Lyles said.

LaWana Mayfield had the council’s highest expenses at $17,328. She couldn’t be reached by the Observer Thursday.

The City Council and mayor are technically part-time employees, and they do not draw large salaries.

The mayor has a salary of $23,052 with a $10,000 expense allowance and a car allowance of $4,800.

Council members have a salary of $17,860, a $5,800 expense allowance and a $4,000 car allowance.

Both the mayor and council members receive a $3,100 technology allowance each year.

In addition to the technology allowance, the city pays for a cellphone and iPad for each council member, if they request the devices.

Kenny Smith, who had the lowest expenses among council members, said his colleagues should consider reducing how much they spend.

“We should re-evaluate what our travel policy is,” he said. “Taxpayers are footing the bill for stuff that I’m not sure has taxpayer benefits.”

David Howard reimbursed the city for some large cellphone roaming charges he incurred while traveling to Spain, on trips he said were funded by outside organizations.

Cutting or reducing council expenses would not make a significant dent in the city’s shortfall. But council members have been discussing smaller line items, such as moving the times of their meetings to save on a $7,700 annual catering bill.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

City Council travel

Here are the expenses for the Charlotte City Council and Mayor Dan Clodfelter in 2014:

LaWana Mayfield, $17,328.40

David Howard, $14,124.82

Al Austin, $13,663.08

Patsy Kinsey, $13,420.12

John Autry, $10,297.12

Claire Fallon $11,860.47

Vi Lyles, $11,072.81

Ed Driggs, $9,162.08

Greg Phipps, $7,595.63

Michael Barnes, $6,398.26

Kenny Smith, $4,056.47

Mayor Dan Clodfelter, $2,675.39