County officials hang on to travel perks 

While San Mateo County supervisors and management worked months to close a $126 million budget deficit, they were receiving hundreds of dollars a month in travel allowances, a practice that beefed up their compensation in some cases by more than $13,000 a year.

Supervisors cut $36 million in county services and dipped into $90 million of county reserves to close the budget gap.

The long-held practice of providing dozens of county officials with several hundred dollars a month for a vehicle allowance was one piece of the county’s vehicle reimbursement system that was criticized in a civil grand jury report last week.

The report noted that all five county supervisors — who set the vehicle allowance amounts — and the county manager  — who decides which employees receive the allowance — all receive $513 every two weeks as a vehicle allowance, which totals to more than $13,000 a year. All of the supervisors’ aides receive more than $200 every two weeks. Several officials in the Sheriff’s Office and every agency director receives more than $400 every two weeks.

The officials do not need to provide any receipts or verification that they use their allowances on travel costs. Also, the thousands of dollars annually are calculated into their income when their pension is being calculated.

The nonbinding grand jury report noted that San Mateo County leaders earn higher vehicle allowances than leaders in the surrounding counties, and cost the county some $639,993 last year.

It recommended the supervisors reduce their own bi-weekly car allowances to the average of other Bay Area counties, and limit the allowances to only elected officials and appointed department heads, rather than allowing legislative aides and deputy directors to receive the allowances.

None of the five supervisors contacted for this story returned calls about the vehicle allowance practice, but one legislative aide, who asked not to be named, explained that the supervisors and their aides do travel all around the county in their vehicles.

“You’d be surprised how much driving goes into this job,” the aide said.

San Mateo County spokesman Marshall Wilson, who does not receive the allowance, said the Board of Supervisors “is looking into” the vehicle allowances to see if adjustments are necessary.

“It is time to look at this and they have been looking at it,” he said.

Budget cutting?

More than 60 San Mateo County elected officials, agency directors and deputies, legislative aides and law enforcement officials receive hundreds of dollars in vehicle allowances. Here are some of the bi-weekly rates they’re paid:
County supervisors: $513
County manager: $513
Legislative aides: $203-216
Deputy county managers: $417
Agency directors: $417-$462

Source: San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury

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Katie Worth

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