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USE OF COUNTY FUNDS FOR PICNIC DRAWS FLAK

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Company picnics financed out of petty cash are not unusual, but when the company is Salt Lake County government and the petty cash comes from taxes, they raise eyebrows.

That's what happened this week when auditors questioned whether it was appropriate for taxpayers to pick up the $1,000 tab for a summer gathering of sanitation and fleet management employees and their families.Department officials said the money will provide refreshments for 325 people at an after-hours picnic today at Union Park.

Assistant auditor Lance Brown interrupted County Commission action on the expenditure with the observation that it seemed unusual and possibly inappropriate. Commissioners and several department heads rejected the assertion, saying the county pays for a lot of similar departmental social activities.

"I think it's done all the time," said Commissioner Randy Hori-uchi, who oversees the sanitation and fleet agencies.

Commission Chairman Jim Bradley agreed, citing the example of the refreshments the county provided at a recent gathering of its volunteers.

And Human Services Director Chris Segura said employees of his department have also been provided with county-funded refreshments during meetings.

Adopting the terminology used by the sanitation and fleet department heads, Bradley told Brown that such activities encourage a "spirit of camaraderie" among employees.

Deputy auditor David Beck said Brown was right to raise the issue when he did, agreeing with him that the expenditure is "unusual."

Although the county does pay for refreshments and meals associated with travel or to facilitate meetings, "this seems to be a departure from that policy," Beck said.

The sanitation/fleet picnic has nothing to do with county business and includes non-county employees, Beck said.

Nevertheless, Beck said, the County Commission makes policy, and if it chooses to pay for a picnic for employees and their families, "it's their prerogative."