Alderwoman Kristina Zambrano presented the amendments to Council members during a regularly scheduled meeting.
“When I looked at the travel policy, it was very vague,” Zambrano said. “There was no accountability. We’re using city money when we travel, and we need to be transparent.”
Council members previously made their own lodging and travel arrangements, but city staff will now handle the planning of those arrangements. If there is training that a city employee wants to travel to attend, the trip must be presented to the Council.
“If any of us want to go, we have to come before the Council, and explain the direct benefit to the city,” Zambrano said.
There will now be a $41 per day per diem to cover meals, and the city will not reimburse any business meals. Lodging expenses will be available the night preceding a conference, but if the conference does not start until 10 a.m. or later, lodging expenses for a preceding night will not be available. An expense report form documenting expenses incurred on trips which were not prepaid directly by the city must be submitted by employees within two business days of their return from a trip.
“I’m all for it,” Alderman Pablo Martinez said. “I wish we would have had this months ago.”
Martinez said the amendments were precipitated by recent trips made by Council members to Austin. He said he and Mayor pro tem Celestino Zambrano made the trip together, and spent $495 between them. Martinez compared that to Mayor Freddy Garcia’s trip , during which he spent $500.
Celestino said Garcia stayed in Austin two nights, whereas he and Martinez only stayed one. The conference they attended started at 10 a.m., Celestino said.
Garcia was not present during the meeting. Celestino said Garcia emailed the city’s district attorney to tell him that he would be in China at the time of the meeting and requested that it be canceled.
“The mayor can cancel a meeting provided there is no quorum,” Celestino said. “We have a quorum, so we are within our rights to have a meeting. He doesn’t have the authority to cancel a meeting just because he’s not going to be here.”
Council meetings are scheduled by resolution on the first and third Mondays of every month, Celestino said.
In other business, the Council held the first of two public meetings needed to set the city’s tax rate at the proposed rate of 86 cents per $100 valuation. The rate exceeds the effective tax rate of 80 cents per $100 valuation, precipitating the need for two public meetings.
Last year’s tax rate was 89 cents per $100 valuation.
“We’re decreasing the tax rate, but the value of the city went up, so the effective tax rate will go up,” Celestino said. “Most of us won’t be paying additional taxes. If you had improvements made to your house, you will pay a little more.”
Celestino said the proposed tax rate will raise $28,000, and will support the city’s operational and maintenance expenses, including maintaining streets, signs, and vehicles.
The second public hearing for the proposed tax rate will be held Sept. 2.