Pending a review of spending on the city’s purchasing cards, one Hartford city councilman seems intent on throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The City of Hartford has a purchasing card program with about 185 cards; the newspaper report does not reveal total spending in the program. Councilman Kenneth Kennedy presented his proposal to ban the use of purchasing cards for travel, dining and “other expenses” for fear that spending was getting out of hand. Meanwhile, in other municipalities, employees are pushed to use their cards whenever possible in order to maximize rebate revenue.
Speaking to the Hartford Courant:
“You can do all of these things through reimbursement,” Kennedy said. “When people spend their own money up front and have to wait for reimbursement, they’re less likely to spend money. The problem with the [purchasing] cards is you can’t control it.”
Meanwhile, the City Council is awaiting the results of an audit of spending on the cards which it requested in March, and expects to receive in April. City Council President Shawn Wooden seems to have a slightly different view of the question:
“I think the real question is whether the actual expenditures are appropriate,” he said. “It’s not whether or not it’s appropriate to use city credit cards for travel expenses. It’s whether it’s appropriate to charge specific expenses, like meals, to the taxpayers of the city.”
Without the data, one cannot argue one way or the other. The city council should be informed as to the spending that occurred, but should also review the mechanisms available (and hopefully, in use) in their card program to control improper spending, including card limits, daily limits, Merchant Category Code restrictions, and others. Purchasing card programs for municipal and local governments can be an important source of savings in the administration of an Accounts Payable Department, as well as a source of rebate income. These savings are important. The Hartford program may need a “tune-up” if improprieties are found, but cities have to learn to manage new (and more efficient) payment types, not fight them.
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