Commissioners vote to cap travel spending

Commissioners vote to cap travel spending

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - The New Hanover County Board of Commissioners voted 3-1 Monday to set individual spending limits for commissioner travel.

Newly seated Commissioner Patricia Kusek asked colleagues to consider adding themselves to the county travel policy. The vote sets a limit of $4,000 each fiscal year, with the policy taking effect during this current budget year that ends in June.

"Even modest amounts of money have huge symbolic value in the eyes of our citizens," Kusek said.

Commissioner Rob Zapple was the lone no vote on the measure. Commissioner Jonathan Barfield had an excused absence from Monday's meeting. Zapple said there has been a misperception on commissioner expenses.

"There is no abuse of the budgeted travel expense account," Zapple said.

Zapple said the county was under budget by more than $3,700 on travel expenses in 2016. The county allotted a little more than $21,500 on that item. Zapple pointed to several success stories that he said started at conferences and meetings that took place out of the county, including a jail diversion initiative, opioid abuse intervention and meetings with the federal delegation on coastal issues.

"You have to show up and be willing to participate," Zapple said.

WECT has been studying county travel spending for years. The county created a travel policy for employees in 2015, but commissioners voted against holding themselves to the same standards at that time.

The current policy change does not restrict commissioners from traveling to conferences, but anything over the $4,000 cap would have to come out of their pocket.     

   2016-17 Commissioner Travel Spending (Through 2/2/17)

Jonathan Barfield $1,752.01
Patricia Kusek $0
Skip Watkins $0
Woody White $0
Rob Zapple $3,587.86
Beth Dawson* $2,999.99

Expenses for former Commissioner Beth Dawson reflect her time on the board from the beginning of the fiscal year into December, when Dawson left the board. She was defeated for re-election in the primary.

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