06/16/05 — McDonald says Hawaii trip not a waste

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McDonald says Hawaii trip not a waste

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on June 16, 2005 1:45 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- The Wayne County commissioners are taking unfair criticism for their decision to attend a national convention in Hawaii, says a former commissioner.

Ray McDonald, town manager of Mount Olive, served as a commissioner in the 1980s. He said the timing of the commissioners' trip is unfortunate, given that they are considering a tax hike, but he said commissioners need to attend such functions to keep up with issues that affect taxpayers. For Wayne residents to oppose the spending of $10,000 for the trip when it could help commissioners find ways to save millions of dollars isn't smart thinking, he said.

McDonald said his family alone pays enough in property taxes to pay for the trip.

"I'd say take our money and take the trip," he said. "We think it's worth it. It builds relationships you can't put a dollar sign on."

Commissioners Bud Gray and Andy Anderson and chairman J.D. Evans are planning to attend the annual meeting of the National Association of County Commissioners in Honolulu in July, along with the board's clerk, Marcia Wilson. Commissioner Atlas Price backed out of the trip in May, before the brouhaha developed over the four-day trip. Commissioner John Bell backed out Monday.

Commissioners are pondering a 7.5-cent increase in the property tax rate.

McDonald said commissioners often learn about the availability of grants and other programs that can help their bottom line by attending such state and national meetings.

"If they can get one grant, it's worth it," he said. "I know when Andy Anderson goes to something he comes back with something. He had as much as anybody to do with getting U.S. 117 from Goldsboro to Wilson."

McDonald said commissioners are often blamed for raising taxes when the issue is out of their control.

The commissioners are forced to react to requirements handed down by the state and federal government, he pointed out. As much as three-fourths of the county budget is based on money that is passed down from the state and federal level, he said, but the money comes with strings attached. In addition, he said, the state and federal government orders local governments to provide services and tells the local government to find a way to pay for them.

"When I was a county commissioner, Ray Rouse and I wanted to cut some out of the social services budget, and we got a call from the (state) attorney general," he said. "They said, 'We're going to cut your sales taxes and use that money to pay it.'"