Gilbert will no longer provide a vehicle for the mayor’s exclusive use after the end of the fiscal year June 30, and all Town Council members may soon have to track their job-related miles driven rather than get a transportation allowance along with their salaries.
The change was approved 7-0 at Tuesday night’s meeting, with Mayor Steve Berman approving the change after he attempted to add a mileage reimbursement for all council members to Councilman Don Skousen’s proposal to drop the mayor’s vehicle.
“My guess is most of the council members will pay less than the $360” monthly travel allowance they currently receive, Berman said. Other council members agreed that the reimbursement issue could be included in the town’s overall budget-setting process, which begins later this month.
The decision ends the policy that led to Berman driving a Ford F-150 truck donated to the town by local dealer San Tan Ford for his exclusive use.
Gilbert provided a vehicle for the mayor since the current council expense policy was adopted in June 2005, a few months after Berman was elected to his second term. His town-issued vehicle was an old Dodge Intrepid until the truck was given to the town in May 2007, with a two-year lease attached.
The town’s acceptance of the vehicle was legal but drew fire from critics who claimed it could either be the cause or effect of favorable treatment for the Ford dealership, the first to open in Gilbert’s first auto mall.
Berman said he was fine with the mayor’s vehicle being removed from the town’s policy as a belt-tightening measure, but it would only be fair for the rest of the council to give something up as well.
Skousen, who is running against Berman for the mayor’s job in the March primary, said he would be willing to look at cutting the transportation allowance but tracking every mile driven for town business in his own vehicle could be difficult.
A staff report pointed out 20 nonelected town employees receive a $500 transportation allowance in their paychecks, and Town Manager George Pettit gets $650.
Councilwoman Joan Krueger said doing the necessary audits to make sure everyone was reporting their mileage correctly would be more expensive in the long run.
“Let’s not reverse the progress we’ve made and cost ourselves more money in the long run,” she said.
In other action, the council unanimously voted to go forward with the acquisition of park land around two flood-control basins on the southern end of town, at a cost of $24 million to be paid for through a bond sale. The bonds are to be repaid through park development impact fees or, if those fail to cover the cost, the town’s General Fund.
Gilbert officials have planned for years to put athletic fields in flood-control basins owned by the Maricopa County Flood Control District, which can’t be developed for housing or commercial uses.
Gilbert will sign a perpetual lease for the 147-acre Rittenhouse basin. Some “high and dry” land is being purchased outright from the district, and can be used for road improvements or permanent recreational facilities.
Skousen said the town needed to act quickly to secure what open space it could, even as it faces some tight budget years ahead.
“I recognize there’s some risk, I recognize there’s some criticism, but I think now is the time to strike the anvil with the hammer,” he said.
The council also agreed to set up a new task force to look at how the town might regulate certain “nontraditional” businesses: pawn shops, tattoo and body-piercing studios, massage parlors, check-cashing outlets and hookah bars, all of which are now rare or nonexistent in Gilbert.
The task force will consist of council and planning commission members, residents and business representatives, and will be chaired by Councilwoman Linda Abbott, who first raised the issue months ago.
She said she doesn’t want to keep these kinds of businesses out of Gilbert, but wants to regulate how close they can locate to schools and to prevent clustering of the same types of businesses.
She isn’t looking for controls on how close different types of businesses locate to each other but said: “The concern is when we have a whole strip mall of hookah bars, or a whole strip mall of tattoo parlors.”