Throwback Thursdays-Councilwoman Susan Berland OverBills Taxpayers 40% For Mileage Reimbursements
Editors Note: Susan Berland is now running for Suffolk County Legislator 16th District against Hector Gavilla. This information may be pertinent for you, the voters to know, before you cast your ballot. Original Story was printed on October 25, 2015.
While town officials grapple with millions in potential cuts to the all-volunteer Huntington Community First Aid Squad, Huntington Councilwoman Susan Berland has been hitting up taxpayers to cover her commutes to ribbon-cuttings and photo-ops. After reviewing Berland’s mileage it appears she overbilled the taxpayers to the tune of 40%.
In more than 100 examples, Councilwoman Susan Berland filed mileage claims to drive around the corner from Huntington Town Hall to Heckscher Park for events.
Obtained through the Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), the documents show Berland collected $10,205.45 in mileage claims from January 2010 to March 2015 – a larger sum than tax experts say she’s entitled to under town regulations. Huntington Town’s Policy and Procedure manual states that reimbursements “shall be calculated based on the shortest possible route only,” and “when using a personal auto for a day trip which originates from the home, the mileage reported for the reimbursement should be from home or Town Hall – whichever is less.”
For trips from the Elks Lodge in Huntington, Berland claimed nine miles of travel, but should have been reimbursed for just a half-mile – the distance between the lodge and Town Hall. She claimed seven miles in travel from home to the Greenlawn Post Office, but should have billed 3.5 miles between that site and Town Hall; and, a nine-mile trip from home in Dix Hills to the Huntington Fire Department should have been claimed as a half mile between the department and Town Hall. For trips from the Hecksher Park in Huntington, Berland claimed eleven miles of travel, but should have been reimbursed for just one- third of a mile – the distance between the Hecksher and Town Hall. Also she claimed nine miles in travel from home to The Paramount, but should have billed one mile between that site and Town Hall.
There are so many dates but here are samples of some of the problem days. The full backup of all the data reviewed can be viewed below.
(1/24/11, 1/29/11, 2/16/11, 2/27/11, 3/15/11, 3/30/11, 4/4/11, 4/10/11, 4/28/11, 5/1/11, 5/15/11, 6/12/11, 7/2/11, 7/5/11, 7/6/11, 7/7/11, 7/13/11, 1/30/12, 5/12/12, 6/11/12, 7/6/12, 7/7/12, 7/17/12, 12/02/12, 1/16/13, 4/17/13, 5/17/13, 7/2/13, 8/6/13, 8/10/13, 10/5/13, 10/19/13, 6/29/14, 7/4/14, 7/8/14, 7/23/14, 8/7/14, 9/11/14, 10/12/14, 1/25/15, 2/23/15)
Golfing for Mileage
There are also discrepancies in the paperwork Berland filed to make mileage claims. Berland, in most cases signed off on her own mileage expenses, and in others filed hand-written or Excel spreadsheet claims for reimbursement instead of official town forms. Additionally she varied the distances she claimed for trips between Town Hall and her home – mileage she should not be claiming in any case, according to tax experts citing IRS regulations.
Any mileage reimbursements claimed in excess of town and IRS regulations must be reported as taxable income, experts say. Berland and her colleagues on the town board earn $80,000 per year, plus benefits, for what is codified in town code as a part-time position.
Berland is the only council member who has claimed mileage reimbursements from 2009 to 2015, records show. Councilman Gene Cook claimed no reimbursements, while Councilwoman Tracey Edwards and Councilman Mark Cuthbertson were only reimbursed for travel expenses related to the annual Association of Towns meeting.
In her campaign flyers, Susan Berland Stated “Elected officials, officers and employees who work for the public good and not for personal gain or profit” However, her behavior on reimbursements is concerning. It is contrary to her campaign mantra and could have repercussions, especially with voters on Election Day.
******** REPORT DOCUMENTATION BELOW *********
Below please find all supporting documents as well as a statement from Councilwoman Berland.
In her response to our inquiry, Berland claims in writing that her reimbursements were, “documented, audited, and approved for reimbursement.” She also claims that, “The reimbursement is for the shorter of the distance from my home or from town hall.” The documents in our possession which were received from the Town’s Comptroller suggest otherwise.
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Below are the detailed worksheets followed by Berland’s written response:
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Below is Berland’s response to our request for comment on her expenses:
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Click to download the actual FOIA documents