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9:25 AM Wed, Oct. 17th

Buster Johnson has largest budget, most expenses of the three supervisors

Mohave County Supervisor Chairman Buster Johnson has the largest budget of the three supervisors, and spends the most for hotels, meals and other purposes, according to documents obtained by the Miner.

Johnson, a Lake Havasu City resident who represents District 3, has a $122,235 budget for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, compared with $83,183 for District 2 Supervisor Jim Zaborsky and $67,718 for District 1 Supervisor Carol Anderson of Kingman.

As of Sept.

28, Johnson spent $31,987 of his budget (26.2 percent) since the July 1 start of the fiscal year, compared with $19,221 (23.1 percent) for Zaborsky and $10,094 (14.9 percent) for Anderson.

Johnson also racked up $18,656 in credit card expenses from the June 30, 1999, to Aug.

31, 2000, billing periods, compared with $8,710 for Zaborsky and $2,856 for Anderson, according to more than 200 pages of documents furnished by the county finance department.

Contacted at the board meeting Monday, Johnson justified the size of his budget and the credit card expenses billed to the county, saying they were for county business.

"Obviously, I go through the budget process," Johnson said.

"I have the largest population of the three districts.

I handle over 1,000 incoming calls every month.

I have the video equipment (for taping meetings)....

If somebody comes in and has a question about the county manager or anything else, we have to provide it to them."

Johnson's budget includes $66,414 for salaries, $12,867 for medical benefits for employees, $7,568 for travel expenses and $5,544 for the motor pool.

Travel, meals and related expenses account for a sizable chunk of the $18,656 in credit card bills that Johnson charged to the county.

Bills include about $540 dated Nov.

13, 1999, for staying at the Plaza Las Glorias in Puerto Penasco, Mexico, also known as Rocky Point; about $320 dated Oct.

26, 1999, for staying at the Oak Tree Inn in Macon, Miss.; and $300 dated June 22, 1999, for attending a meeting of the Arizona Mexico Commission.

Closer to home, Johnson billed the county $600 for chartering a bus Nov.

30, 1999, from Casino Fun Run Express Inc.

of Lake Havasu; and about $217 on Jan.

7 at Sugrues Restaurant Bakery in Lake Havasu City and $185 at the same location Sept.

18, 1999.

Johnson said he made the trip to Mexico as a member of the Arizona Mexico Commission and traveled to Mississippi with Don Van Brunt, former executive director of the Mohave County Economic Development Authority, to learn more about catfish farming.

MCEDA has been trying to attract an aquaculture business to the Wikieup area near the site of a proposed natural gas-fired power plant.

MCEDA paid for the airfare and Johnson covered the accommodations, he said.

The bus took constituents on a field trip to a state prison near Buckeye, Johnson said.

Johnson, Zaborsky and MCEDA have supported a private prison that Mohave Correctional Properties LLC is planning to build near the Griffith Energy Project, a gas-fired power plant under construction near Kingman.

Johnson said the $217 bill at Sugrues covered renting the restaurant for a conference, and the $185 bill involved entertaining executives from Norcraft Cos.

LLC, which opened a cabinet-making plant at the former Kimberly-Clark/Scott Paper plant in Yucca in April.

"They eventually located here and brought 300 jobs," Johnson said of Norcraft.

Unlike Anderson and Zaborsky, Johnson said he has not attended conferences of the National Association of Counties.

For instance, Zaborsky billed the county $895 on July 20, 1999, for attending the NACo convention at the Mayfair Hotel in St.

Louis with his wife, Louise, and $690 on June 29, 1999, for airfare for the couple.

"I am concentrating my interest with economic development," Johnson said.

Asked whether a partial release of his financial statements questioned his reputation as a fiscal conservative, Johnson said, "This is coming from Supervisor Carol Anderson, who is harping on us."

Anderson instructed her assistant, Manny Esquibel, to pull the records, Johnson said.

"I have not made it an issue.

It's constituents who are asking about it.

I refer them down to the finance department," Anderson said.

The finance department and County Attorney Bill Ekstrom reviewed the bills, Johnson said.

County supervisors are given the option of claiming the per diem rate of $25 or charging bigger expenses to the county, Chief Financial Officer Duc Ma said.

He said he knows of no supervisor who has been asked to reimburse the county for bills.

"It's totally to the individual board member to determine what is in the best interests of their particular district, if it is something reasonably connected with county business," Ekstrom said.

"It's partly a judgment call on their part.

Board members have historically allowed each other latitude and discretion."

Supervisors earn $47,500 a year.