06/08/05 — Aloha, taxpayers: Commissioners blunder with excursion to Hawaii

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Aloha, taxpayers: Commissioners blunder with excursion to Hawaii

Somehow the idea of four county commissioners and a clerk spending their days at seminars and their late afternoons and evenings lounging on a beach in Hawaii or at a luau would be a lot easier to take if it wasn’t combined with a proposed 10-cent, now 7.5-cent, tax increase for county property owners.

And it doesn’t help either that this trip is also on the heels of statements by commissioners and county officials regarding the need for the county school district to be more forthcoming with information about where it is spending — or not spending — its money.

We don’t want commissioners who are unaware of the latest information that could help this community. We want them to do the best job possible.

But that is really not the point.

The county commission could get just as much benefit out of the conference if one or maybe two members went on the trip at taxpayers’ expense and came back with a report for the others.

They say that they will be interacting with their peers and making connections that could be beneficial for Wayne County. Really? Among the thousands of people who will be in attendance, there is a chance that there could be any more connections made on the beach in Hawaii than there could be with a simple trip within a 45-mile radius of Raleigh to spend an afternoon comparing notes with a North Carolina community facing some of the same issues we are dealing with here?

The smart way to have handled this trip was to choose one paid representative and then to offer the chance to go to any commissioner who wanted to use his own money to cover the expense. That is what you do when you have a limited budget, increasing bills and you are asking others to tighten their belts to come up with a little extra. And it wouldn’t have hurt, either, to have been upfront with the taxpayers from the start, to have let them know about the trip along with the tax hike plan.

Then, the commission would have looked responsible, accountable and concerned about the tax burden it is about to put on the backs of the community. We might even have been more willing to think about why we might want to put a little more money in the county coffers.

And then there is the question of why any county government organization would choose to locate a convention in Hawaii — one of the most expensive travel destinations in the country — at a time when many communities are struggling to catch on to the economic boom and facing job loss and economic development challenges.

The commission has asked county officials to look a little more closely at the budget for ways to reduce the tax burden on property owners. Too bad some of its members did not look a little more closely themselves, at their own bills.

Published in Editorials on June 8, 2005 11:38 AM