Published January 23. 2014 4:00AM
Stonington - With a Board of Finance subcommittee seeking to limit his use of a town-leased car, First Selectman Ed Haberek has proposed that his expense account be increased by 50 percent in the proposed 2014-15 budget, from $6,000 to $9,000.
Former finance board Chairman Glenn Frishman, now a regular member, has criticized Haberek for receiving $1,800 in per diem payments and reimbursing himself for expenses he incurred on trips to trade shows instead of using his expense account. Haberek promotes the town to businesses on the trips.
Haberek receives the $6,000 in addition to his $94,873 annual salary. That salary is proposed to increase to $97,150 in 2014-15, making his total possible compensation $106,150.
"I don't think that's going to happen," said finance board Chairman John O'Brien Wednesday when asked about the increase in the expense account. "I can't speak for the rest of the board, but I don't think that's going to fly."
O'Brien, who said he just received the budget proposal and has not had a chance to study it, said the board would talk to Haberek when he presents the budget and "get to the bottom" of why he wants more expense money.
Frishman on Wednesday said the board "considers all requests based on their merit."
"But in light of the economic times, that would be a very difficult thing to do," he added about the expense hike.
Haberek did not respond to several emails and phone messages this week seeking information about his proposed budget.
Haberek canceled a trip to Canada to promote the town last year after Frishman criticized him for "double dipping" by paying himself per diem payments that went as high as $71 a day and reimbursing himself for hotel stays and transportation instead of drawing from his expense account.
Haberek said town policy calls for town employees to receive per diem payments per IRS guidelines when away on town business. But Frishman argued those employees receive a per diem stipend because they do not have an expense account.
Two weeks ago, the finance board recommended that the town clarify its policy limiting the use of town vehicles so it clearly applies to Haberek and the Board of Selectmen.
Last fall, The Day reported that Haberek had been extensively using a 2011 Ford Fusion leased by the town, including taking it home at night. Frishman said it was the understanding of the finance board that Haberek would use the car to travel to out-of-town meetings but would use his own car for in-town business and would be reimbursed for gas. Frishman said he also was unaware that Haberek was taking the car home at night, something he said the finance board never envisioned.
The town's policy regarding the use of town vehicles states that vehicles must be parked at Town Hall or at the Human Services Department when not in use, unless otherwise authorized. It is unclear who authorized Haberek to take the car home.
Although there is no computerized record of him doing this as there are for other town employees, Haberek has said he fuels up the leased Ford Fusion at the town highway garage pump instead of using his expense account for gas as his two predecessors have said they did.
But Haberek has argued that he is much more active than William Brown or Donald Maranell and does much more driving than they did. He said that much driving would quickly exhaust his expense account.