The Mount Airy Town Council will now pay for dinner expenses for town officials and staff members who attend Maryland Municipal League chapter meetings.
The five-member council voted Monday to redirect $945 — which the town saved in muncipal league dues this year — from the town budget to be used to pay for dinner expenses for town officials who attend Frederick and Carroll county muncipal league chapter meetings for the rest of the year.
The Mayrland Muncipal League is a nonprofit association that works to strengthen and support municipal government. The town, which is a member of Frederick and Carroll county chapters of MML, sends representatives quarterly to attend chapter meetings.
Traditionally, the town has paid dinner expenses for staff and officials, but the expense was eliminated in fiscal 2012 to cut down on costs.
The working meetings are attended by elected officials across the county and are used to discuss issues affecting municipal governments in the county, such as new state mandates, state highway funding and the upcoming election cycle, according to Mount Airy Mayor Patrick Rockinberg.
The council supported the funding shift 4-1, with Councilman David Blais opposed.
“This is taxpayer dollars, this isn’t our money. This isn’t money that we play with,” Blais said. “We all work, we all collect a salary from the town, I don’t see why we shouldn’t pay to go to these.”
Council members are paid $4,000 annually.
Mount Airy is one of about 46 municipalities in Maryland to have banner status, a designation that recognizes towns and cities that have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to MML programs through the involvement of their elected officials. As part of the five criteria for the designation, the town is required to have at least one representative attend 50 percent of the chapter meetings, according to Jim Peck, MML director of research.
Blais said only the required representatives and staff should have their meals paid for by the town, with others wishing to go paying their own way.
“For the most part [the meeting] was a networking session,” Blais said of a meeting he attended this year. “...To blanket say that if you want to go [to the meeting] the town is going to pay for your dinner, I just find that is the taxpayer paying for us to go out and eat dinner, and I feel that that’s wrong.”
“We’re talking about the issues that affect our town, we’re not just sitting there eating a dinner [saying] ‘Hey this great,’ free food, and we leave,” Councilman Scott Strong said.
The cost of dinner at the average of four MML meetings town officials attend each year is about $20 per person. At the last meeting hosted by the Carroll County chapter on Sept. 7, seven people from Mount Airy attended.
Rockinberg said the added cost could limit the number of people who run for elected office in the town.
“By making elected officials pay for these meetings that clearly benefit the town, you’re going to limit the number people who can run for office,” he said in an interview. “And everyone should be able to run for office, not just those who can afford it.”
Earlier in the council meeting Monday, the board presented a town proclamation, signed by all members of the council, declaring November to be Municipal Government Works month. Rockinberg noted that the proclamation listed the benefits of MML on the town.
“I was surprised by the lack of support of MML by Councilman Blais,” he said.