Commissioners' Visa charges reach nearly $12,000 in 2002

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In his last year before leaving office under term limits, former Moffat County Commissioner T. Wright Dickinson charged more than $7,000 to a county-issued credit card -- more than any former or current commissioner in the last three years.

Dickinson's credit card expenses for 2002 -- the majority of them travel related for various conferences in destinations such as Washington D.C., New Orleans, Vail and Denver -- are included among the nearly $12,000 in total Visa charges from last year, which also cover transactions by Commissioners Marianna Raftopoulos and Les Hampton.

Of the $11,000 budgeted for commissioners' 2002 travel expenses, $10,665 was spent while county coffers were reimbursed for $3,850 of those charges -- all amid a late-year budget crunch which left county department heads trimming expenses.

A review of county records show rising commissioners' travel costs between 2000 and 2002, while they've budgeted $11,000 for travel expenses for each of those years. Commissioners spent $6,158, or 56 percent of that line item in 2000, followed by $9,335, or 85 percent in 2001.

By comparison, Rio Blanco County commissioners and a county manager spent $2,326 for travel costs on a county-issued credit card in 2002, according to records reviewed by the Craig Daily Press.

Each Moffat County department head is issued a credit card, including each commissioner, while no written policies or procedures exist for use of the credit cards, according to county officials.

Moffat County accounting staff said monthly Visa statement are distributed to department heads, who then code each transaction for payment from a line-item in that department's budget.

Dickinson, for example, charged $55.14 to his Visa card last December -- including $19.67 for a tank of gas in Colorado Springs, and $11.57 for a bill at the Boomtown Brewpub in Leadville. Some $23.90 was charged for use of AOL online services.

The first two charges were paid under commissioners' "travel expenses" line item, while the Internet bill fell under "computer services."

Dickinson's AOL charges appear monthly on statements from January 2000 through January 2003, while he was billed personally by the county for his final month in office, which expired Jan. 15 under term limits.

The AOL fees were for Dickinson's use of a county-issued laptop computer.

Commissioners, meanwhile, have again budgeted $11,000 in travel expenses this year.

Commissioner Raftopoulos said she has tried to save taxpayer dollars where possible in her travels. And despite budgeted amounts for the year, Raftopoulos predicted commissioners' travel costs will decline.

"Commissioners on a whole are going to have to travel, that's part of the job and we try to keep them as low as we can," said Raftopoulos, interviewed by telephone Thursday from Reno, Nevada, where she and commissioner Hampton attended a five-day meeting of the National Association of Counties.

Raftopoulos, now serving as president of Colorado Counties Inc., said that organization would pay charges associated with the trip. The commissioner said Hampton's stay would be paid on a county credit card, while Moffat County would be reimbursed by CCI.

Taxpayers, she said, benefit on a host of issues impacting Northwest Colorado. She pointed to a mid-week conference attended by U.S. Department of Interior officials, who heard Moffat County's take on the ongoing federal wilderness protection debate.

Beyond that, she said commissioners look to stay closer to home this year.

"We didn't have as many issues as last year," Raftopoulos said.

"We've been cutting it down considerably, and we might not reach $4,000 by the end of the year."

Through April this year, commissioners charged a combined $958 to the credit cards, according to records.

Dickinson through the same period last year had compiled $2,583 on his card.

Cindi Shanahan, deputy clerk to the commissioners, said the county began keeping a monthly log of commissioners' travel in 2000.

"Each commissioner was issued a palm pilot," Shanahan said. "I can download where they were at and what they were doing ... (they) were really pretty good about putting most of the meetings on here."

Shanahan said records reflecting Dickinson's travel were deleted after he left office.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com

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