A dinner to celebrate the season of Christmas for town of Pomfret Zoning and Planning Board members and its employees was paid for with taxpayer dollars.

On Dec. 19, town Supervisor Don Steger signed off on a purchase order and voucher in the amount of $465.68 for the Dec. 13 dinner. The event was held at a restaurant located in the town for what Steger says is an annual dinner.

“It’s a holiday meeting,” Steger said. “I get up and make a five minute speech and wish them all a happy holidays. They’re welcome to invite their spouses, but it’s a Dutch treat (they have to pay).”

The dinner came just one month after the town had approved a budget that increased spending and taxes.

The payment for the dinner bill, which included 12 prime rib dinners at $18.95; one alfredo with chicken at $16.95; two alfredo with shrimp at $17.95; two piccatta at $15.95; 17 deserts and coffee at $2.50; cheese and fruit at $40 and 18 percent gratuity at $71.03 for a total of $465.68, was split evenly and paid for between two budget lines under a contractual expense for the Zoning and Planning Boards respectively.

According to the New York State Comptroller’s Office, meals such as this one are not encouraged to be paid for or reimbursed. According to the office, which forwarded the OBSERVER a copy of legal opinion 98-2, it states that “meal expenses may not be reimbursed unless a local official is traveling outside of his or her regular work area on official business for an extended period of time or is prevented from taking time off for meals due to a pressing need to complete the business at hand.”

The opinion goes on to state, “Meals would be a proper local government charge when the local government is faced with business of an immediate nature and meetings are essential at mealtime. Under those circumstances, the furtherance of public business is the main purpose of the meetings and the food is incidental thereto. Thus, the cost of meals while performing the usual duties of the position within the local government is generally a personal expense.”

Tim Hoefer, the operations director of the Empire Center for Public Policy, called the Pomfret meal spending “egregious.”

“As a taxpayer,” he said, “I would be upset.”

When asked if this should be a dinner paid for by the town, Steger responded by saying: “Well, we restricted it to try and keep the costs in line. They have restricted menu choices. I think it was a little more last year, not much more, but we’re trying to keep it in line by restricting it to vegetarian, chicken or beef.”

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