Edge steps up to boost county tax collections

We’ve been unambiguous about our dislike of the discretionary funds that our county commissioners enjoy, a sentiment that is well grounded, based on the size of the funds, the lack of transparency, the potential for abuse, and that the money is not restricted to aiding nonprofits, allowing for loose spending.

Try as we might, we have been unable to find another discretionary fund for any county in North Carolina, although the city of Lumberton does have one that we also don’t like. The city’s, however, is much more modest, 20 percent the size of the county’s beginning the next fiscal year, and transparent, requiring a vote of the full board before the check is written. We heard this a lot when calling county managers across the state in search of other discretionary funds: “You’re kidding right? They got that?”

Then we would share how underpaid and poorly benefitted their commissioners are when compared with ours.

We think the discretionary fund is second only to the hauling of voters in explaining that the average length of term for our county commissioners is now beyond four terms. I scratch your back, you vote for me. It is quite the racket our commissioners have established for themselves.

Our disdain for the use of discretionary money isn’t going to change because it is being used by Commissioner David Edge to publish the names of delinquent taxpayers in Sunday’s The Robesonian. Edge, the only Republican on the board and who self-describes as a conservative, spends his discretionary money sparingly as opposed to other commissioners who empty theirs.

Edge will spend $5,000 or so for the advertisement, but it will be money well-spent. It will be impossible to measure just how many delinquent taxpayers will either pay their debt or enter an agreement with the county to get that done, but we know many will in order to avoid having their name published. There will be a lot more who don’t even know they owe until they see it in the newspaper on Sunday.

We have been told by Tax Office employees that traffic is heavier in advance of the listings being published in The Robesonian, and immediately thereafter — but not so much when they are published in the hard-to-find weekly newspaper.

The most frequent defense of the fund is that it enables commissioners to spread money in their districts, and is a hangover from the days when some districts didn’t share equally in the pie. But if that were indeed the case, that urgency no longer exists. There is no reason that these pet projects cannot be financially supported through the regular budgetary process that provides for transparency and requires a vote.

The discretionary funds put almost a quarter of a million dollars in the hands of commissioners to do with as they please, and that happens in perhaps the poorest county in the state, one with a lot of needs that go unmet. Although some commissioners manage it, it isn’t easy spending $30,000 a year, which requires disbursing $82 a day for every day of the year, including weekends. But no worry for those commissioners who can’t find the time: The money isn’t returned to the General Fund, but is simply rolled over and spent at a later day, perhaps in the months before May during even-numbered years.

What should have happened is for the tax listings to have never been removed from the county’s only daily newspaper, one that has a much broader reach both through the print edition and the internet. But the leadership on our Board of Commissioners has demonstrated once again that it is willing to be childish and vindictive even if doing so handicaps efforts to collect valuable tax dollars in a county where they are desperately needed.

We commend Edge for stepping up and wisely using his discretionary fund in order to boost collections. It is shameful that it was left to him to do so.