Municipal conference attendees spend more than $1K to learn tight budget techniques

CHICAGO – City officials from across the state gathered last month at the annual Illinois Municipal League Conference in Chicago to learn how to manage municipal budgets during tough fiscal times — many kept a tight budget during the conference and others spent upwards of $1,000 per person to send a representative.

This is happening at time when the effective property tax rate for many suburban cities has gone up by more than 80 percent over the last decade. And many downstate communities are cutting back on core government services such as police and fire protection.

Illinois News Network filed Freedom of Information Act requests with municipalities across the state seeking copies of expense reports filed by elected and administrative officials who attended the conference.

Every municipality has different rules regarding reimbursable expenses. Moline, for instance, did not reimburse for alcohol — representatives subtracted the cost of all alcohol purchased during meals — while Rock Island reimbursed the whole tab.

Proximity appeared to be the largest factor in whether attendees stayed in the Hilton at taxpayers’ expense rather than commuting. The cost per person, per night for a main level room at the Chicago Hilton was $267.47 once taxes were added and executive level rooms were $308.47 per night.

For a city like Rock Island, which sent two city council members and Mayor Dennis Pauley, the bill for lodging alone came to more than $1,500.

When it came to parking, attendees had many choices, including the hotel’s self-park or valet services, as well as many nearby discount parking garages. Among those who drove instead of taking public transportation, attendees from Mokena, Evanston, Orland Park, Rock Island, Berwyn, Alton and Moline all chose to park in the hotel lot. Representatives from Berwyn, Moline and Mokena opted for the more costly valet parking option.

According to FOIA documents, no mileage reimbursements were associated with conference attendance.

Not all cities saw the conference as a necessary expense.

“Due to budgetary cut backs any City elected officials or municipal employees wanting to attend the 2014 Illinois Municipal League Conference were to pay their own expenses. There would be no reimbursements for attending said conference,” said Kris Schmitz, a spokeswoman for the city of Kankakee.

Other communities took a similar view. For example, the city of East Moline did not send anyone to the conference.

Others who attended the conference were quite cost conscious. For example, the Village of Downers Grove sent three people to the conference but each rode public transportation and didn’t bill the city for meals.

The Village of Orland Park was equally thrifty, sending two representatives who chose to self-park in the Hilton guest parking lot instead of the hotel’s more expensive valet service. The village also places caps on meal expenses.

— Editor Lesley Nickus contributed to this report

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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