Commissioners masquerade as good stewards of your tax dollars

It was quite the dog-and-pony show on Monday when the Robeson County Board of Commissioners met, with the commissioners slipping into a new outfit, one of being good stewards of your tax dollars. We hope you saw it, but if you didn’t, it’s not too late as the video can be found at The Robesonian’s Facebook page.

Stay until the end, which is where we will begin.

After the commissioners said they would recess for 5 minutes, they returned 45 minutes later to a mostly empty room and heard a motion by Commissioner David Edge that received a second from Lance Herndon to re-advertise delinquent tax notices, but this time in The Robesonian. The motion was obviously prompted by this newspaper’s reporting that the list published on May 23 in an obscure weekly was incomplete, and among the omissions were two immediate relatives of commissioners.

Vice Chairman Berlester Campbell, usually the weak silent type, took on a leading role this night, complaining about wasting taxpayer money to publish the notices a second time. He asked Ricky Harris how much that would cost and Harris apparently snatched a figure out of the air, telling Campbell “around $13,000.” Last year this newspaper published the notices for less than $8,000, and this year we were not given the opportunity to bid, so the $13,000 figure is way high.

We will help Campbell with some third-grade math: The county paid the Robeson Journal about $7,000 to publish the notices, and using that paper’s inflated figure of 2,500 circulation, that comes out to about $2.80 for each publication; if the notices were published in this newspaper, that figure would be about 65 cents per publication — and that does not count the free publication at robesonian.com, which is visited by thousands of people every day.

Campbell, who likes to tell us he doesn’t read our newspaper, apparently knows what’s in it, because his rambling, semi-coherent monologue on how he has to pay for health insurance appeared directed at this newspaper. If we have said the commissioners get free health insurance, allow us to roll that back. They get the same deal as employees, which means they pay a portion of their health insurance, and then co-pays and such when they use it.

Campbell skipped over the commissioners’ salaries, among the highest in the state, the $700 a month travel stipend, the retirement, the fact that the health insurance follows them when they leave the board if they have served six years, and the $30,000 a year discretionary fund that no other commissioners in the state enjoy. Campbell thought so little of the $700 a month stipend when he needed your vote in 2014, he promised to donate the entire stipend to worthy causes in his district, meaning he should have spread about $30,000 of joy. We will be calling him for proof that has happened.

Campbell and fellow Commissioners Roger Oxendine and Raymond Cummings spent much of the meeting laying the groundwork to tell the Public Schools of Robeson County that while the county is a big supporter of education and all, it won’t be able to increase funding by $17 million as requested.

The commissioners took issue with an unrelenting fact, reported by this newspaper, that the county provides the local schools the second-lowest amount of money per-pupil in the state. They said the figure is misleading because of all the low-wealth money that comes in from the state, which is essentially welfare.

Assistant County Manager Kellie Blue said when that money is added in, the county ranks 33rd worst in the state, although Oxendine turned that into 33rd best.

But here is the problem: The commissioners can’t say they can’t better fund the school system when a couple of months ago they were in a full sprint to spend $6 million or so for a building that the school system didn’t want. That is why they are having to defend not providing the local system more tax dollars.

Providing the schools significantly more money will require dipping into reserves or raising taxes, and this board will not raise taxes because that could cost members on election day. Leadership is about making hard decisions, and this board is not dominated by leaders, but by small thinkers.

On Monday night, the commissioners took a moment of silence to honor Patrick Pait, the county attorney who was killed in a car accident on June 3. That was expected and appropriate, but we can think of a lot better way to honor Pait, a person of high character who returned to his native county to make it a better place.

That is to do the right thing, and for the commissioners to serve the community and not themselves. We don’t know why that is so hard.