NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - New Hanover County and Wilmington both sent leaders to national conferences in March, but the bill to county taxpayers was $16,000 less than the city's.
Commissioners Jonathan Barfield and chairman Ted Davis Jr. attended a national conference in Washington, DC last month. The cost? $3,000.
Just a week before, 9 city council members attended the National League of Cities annual conference. The cost? $20,000.
"I didn't feel we needed the whole delegation there to talk to congressmen and delegates and we were able to bring back the information to fellow commissioners," said Barfield.
Barfield said by taking fewer people, they were able to save thousands of dollars during these tight economic times.
"We just laid off 27 people," said Barfield. "We are in a pretty tight crunch as it, and we really looking at what we are spending. Commissioner Davis is really conservative when it comes to dollars and he and I talked about those things on our way up to make sure we didn't go over any type of crazy budget - realizing we are spending taxpayer dollars and all of these things are open to the public anyway."
The county members stayed at the same hotel as the city, spending just over $200 a night.
According to information obtained from the county clerk, the commissioners spent $30-$40 for dinners - that's where the difference came in.
"I tried to go to Chick-fil-A, but Davis wanted Cracker Barrel," said Barfield. "And during the conference they supplied us with food."
In contrast, the council members spent $400-$500 for dinner at restaurants like Ruth's Chris Steak House, and it wasn't just council members - some spouses ate on the taxpayer dime too.
"Since I have been here in 2003, it has been that we have been paying for them," said Saffo. "If we would like to change that policy or take a look at that policy, I would refer that to the audit committee."
WECT went to Kristi Tomey, the chair of the audit committee, to see if the policy needs to be changed.
"Of course it will, and it will come up sooner than later," said Tomey.
Barfield said according to the county's travel policy, no spouses can be paid for on the county's tab.
The city said their travel guidelines have been out of date for years, but they plan on updating the policy in the near future.
The audit committee plans to meet May 4 to discuss the new travel policy, and the public is welcome to attend.
Here is the breakdown of meal reimbursement for each commissioner (Courtesy County Clerk):
- $25.75 - March 7, 2009 - lunch for both Commissioner Barfield and Chairman Davis
- $22.00 - March 9, 2009 - breakfast at hotel that was included in the hotel bill for Commissioner Barfield
- $33.23 - March 9, 2009 - lunch
- $10.45 - March 10, 2009 - lunch
- $22.49 - March 11, 2009 - lunch for both Commissioner Barfield and Chairman Davis
- $45.70 - March 8, 2009 - dinner
North Carolina Association of County Commissioners Legislative Breakfast on March 11, 2009 was paid for ahead of time by our office $30 each - Total $60
The County Manager paid for the following meals that would not have been included in the reimbursement:
- $17.25 - March 7, 2009 - dinner - Chairman Davis (county per diem amount for dinner)
- $17.25 - March 7, 2009 - dinner - Commissioner Barfield (county per diem amount for dinner)
- $14.80 - March 8, 2009 - lunch - Chairman Davis
- $14.80 - March 8, 2009 - lunch - Commissioner Barfield