08/09/05 — Officials share tips from trip to convention

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Officials share tips from trip to convention

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on August 9, 2005 1:49 PM

The three Wayne County commissioners who attended a national commissioners conference in Hawaii last month said the information they picked up from four days of meetings with other commissioners from around the country will help them in their role as county leaders.

Commissioners were criticized for spending public dollars on the trip at a time when they were increasing the tax rate. Two canceled plans to attend.

But the three who attended the four-day conference -- Bud Gray, Andy Anderson and Chairman J.D. Evans -- said it provided a wealth of information that will help them make the right decisions on a host of issues that affect Wayne residents.

Gray, who paid for his trip out of his own pocket, said workshops on a wide variety of subjects gave them a better perspective on many problems that face local governments.

He said he was particularly interested in sessions devoted to helping senior citizens with prescription drug costs and at curbing the growth of illegal drug labs that produce methamphetamine.

Anderson said county officials are concerned about the ability of older residents to afford the drugs they need.

"The National Association of Counties is now testing a pilot program that will help people, especially the elderly, save a little on their drug bills," Anderson said. "I want to do more research on this program, and also want to see what the impact will be on our small pharmacies, many of them hurting now."

Evans said one of the highlights of the conference was an awards program that spotlighted the best practices of local government.

"You get the opportunity to experience the first-hand knowledge of those who developed the programs along with their successes and failures," he said.

Some of the seminars Evans attended covered topics on how rural counties could promote strong families, develop after school initiatives, improve county efficiency, and create alternatives to juvenile detention.

Attending the conference allowed commissioners to establish rapport and cooperation with their counterparts around the country, Evans said.

Anderson attended briefings on transportation issues, including the problems facing many ports. North Carolina officials are studying ways to make the state ports in Wilmington and Morehad City more productive, with an eye toward inland economic development.

A concern in many ports, Anderson said, is a lack of docking space. Port authorities are looking for ways to get cargo unloaded and moved out faster, using bigger ships.

"We have the same problems here on the East Coast," Anderson said.

He said that shipbuilders are building vessels that can carry 10,000-12,000 containers. It would take a train 50 miles long to carry the same amount of cargo. North Carolina ports have a maximum depth of 45 feet and the bigger ships need at least 50 feet, Anderson said.

"Most of our East Coast ports are 20 to 30 miles inland and require expensive dredging and some, like Wilmington are already at bedrock," Anderson said. "It will always be limited in size of ships."

Such large amounts of cargo would need to be sorted at large warehouses preferably located at major railroad junctions, Anderson noted, and Goldsboro is located at one of the major railroad intersections in the eastern part of the state.

Anderson said highways were another major topic of discussion. Safety on rural roads and the benefits and drawbacks of toll roads were the focus of two of the seminars he attended.

"With the projected need for roads and the shortage of funds, toll roads may be part of our solution, however unpopular," he said.

Environmental issues also were a hot topic at the conference, the commissioners said.

Water issues were addressed. Water supplies are already at a critical level in many states.

"A lot of larger cities are hiring engineering firms to design, build and operate a system for them," Anderson said. "Many of the coastal areas are going to desalination of salt or brackish water."

He said that some downstream cities are starting to sue upstream cities for polluting the rivers.

"That may be something we need to look at, " he said.