This newspaper has convincingly made the case that our county commissioners have voted themselves salary, benefits and discretionary funds that are obnoxiously bloated; have done so in the most cowardly manner, without a public discussion or vote; and when asked to defend their money grab have run and ducked, or in the case of their discretionary funds, dispatched proxies to offer defense.
We provided context by comparing their pay and benefits with those of boards of commissioners in nearby counties and across the state.
No more evidence was needed, but a case can never be too compelling.
With that in mind, The Robesonian decided to look at the pay and benefits for the major municipalities in Robeson County, and the Board of Education, which serves the entire county.
We didn’t know what we would find, but nothing was revealed that testifies in favor of how our county commissioners reward themselves.
The information is itemized on Page 1A, and it certainly includes some head-scratchers.
Why, for instance, does the mayor of Maxton, one of the smaller towns in Robeson County that also happens to be broke, receive a salary of $7,200 a year?
Why do Pembroke Town Council members receive free health insurance? This benefit is also extended to Lumberton council members, but is easier to defend in that city, given the difference in the sizes of those communities.
And why do Red Springs board members settle for compensation of $10 per meeting, and a yearly travel stipend of just $50 for gasoline to and from those meetings? Their decision to seek public office obviously has everything to do with service, and nothing to do with compensation.
The Board of Education for the Public Schools of Robeson County is the most comparable to the county Board of Commissioners. The yearly salary for members of that board — a per diem and travel allowance combined — is about 40 percent of what the commissioners earn, and they don’t have health insurance, retirement or a discretionary fund to curry favor in anticipation of Election Day.
So there you go.
We caution you against laying too much blame — or in cases such as Red Springs, too much credit — with members of the current boards. In some instances, the pay and benefits — if any exist — have been inherited, which is not the case for the sitting county commissioners, who are overwhelmingly responsible for their continued plundering in one of the poorest counties in North Carolina. We pledge as a newspaper to look more keenly when new budgets are crafted so not to allow these local boards to do as our commissioners have routinely done, which is to vote themselves more of your dollars out of the sunlight.
A mixed bag is what we found, and what should be expected when local boards are given the authority to decide their own compensation, a system whose flaws are stark when examined locally. We wish the General Assembly would get involved, and at least establish limits.
Paradoxically, there is a benefit. The people of this county have plenty of information that should help them better understand whether their elected officials are in office to serve them — or themselves.