NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - We now know how much it cost you to send four New Hanover County delegates to a conference in Long Beach, California last month.
County Commissioners Beth Dawson and Rob Zapple joined County Manager Chris Coudriet and Chief Information Officer Leslie Chaney at the National Association of Counties annual conference. Because it is an expensive place to visit, per diem reimbursements were higher than usual. The total cost for taxpayers was $9,309.
Chaney spent the least of the four delegates, paying out of her own pocket for everything but her flight and hotel room. She spent two nights at the Holiday Inn in Downtown Long Beach for $357, and her round-trip flight to California was $879.
Commissioners Dawson and Zapple spent the exact same amount at $2,539. They both had hotel rooms that ran $1,055 each for their stay at the conference, plus expenses for meals, airfare, ground transportation, and a $505 conference registration fee per person, which included the cost of an awards luncheon.
Coudriet's total expenses were the highest, at $2,945. His flight was slightly more expensive, and he also stayed a day longer than any other delegate, driving up his hotel bill to $1,320.
For their meals in Long Beach, delegates were reimbursed $16 per day for breakfast, $18 per day for lunch, and $30 per day for dinner.
Commissioners Dawson, Zapple and Barfield have previously voted to exclude themselves from having to follow the county travel policy. That policy restricts reimbursable expenses for their employees traveling on county business.
These commissioners did volunteer to follow per diem reimbursement rates but declined fellow Commissioner Woody White's suggestion to cap their individual travel budgets. Instead, they share a $21,566 travel budget between all commissioners and their clerks without setting individual limits.
When White suggested setting individual caps last fall, Commission Chair Dawson expressed doubt that anyone was using a disproportionate amount of the travel budget for individual travel.
"I think that some of your comments are assuming that certain things are being done that are just not being done," Dawson said at the November Commissioners meeting. "We have held the line on this line item budget for the last several years. And if you want to take that total and divide it by about 8 of us including our clerks, it comes out to be about $2,500 a piece."
But as you can see by the Long Beach trip, this single convention would have exhausted that entire annual travel budget per commissioner if it were divided evenly among commissioners and clerks. Zapple and Dawson have attended multiple conferences in the last 12 months.
Because Commissioners White and Skip Watkins travel very infrequently to these conventions, money they left unspent is able to subsidize the more active travel schedules of other commissioners.
Last month, we interviewed the delegates to Long Beach about what they were learning and accomplishing for the county on this trip. To read those highlights, click here.