LUMBERTON — Frances Cummings says that a $100 donation from Robeson County Commissioner Berlester Campbell will help place a state historical marker at the site of the former Thompson Institute in Lumberton.
“He is extremely in touch with the people in the community. He has a feel for them and helps wherever he can,” said Cummings, a longtime educator and former state representative. “He is one of the most generous political contributors in the county … He is giving back to his community.”
Campbell is sprinkling his $700 a month stipend that he gets for travel expenses elsewhere, fulfilling a promise he made to voters in 2014.
A $150 donation to the Fairmont High School basketball program helped provide lunches for participants in a summer basketball camp, said Fairmont basketball coach Montrell McNair, and $200 is being used to purchase mats for Fairmont Middle School’s cheerleading team, according to Elizabeth Epps, the team’s coach.
Campbell, whose District 2 includes Fairmont, Maxton and Rowland, promised during last year’s campaign for the Board of Commissioners to donate his $700 monthly travel stipend back to the community. He did so after The Robesonian in August 2012 began reporting that this county’s commissioners are the best paid and benefited in North Carolina, prompting criticism from the public.
Since April Campbell has written 28 checks totaling $3,105 to support student scholarships, a basketball camp, pageant participants, a pastor’s anniversary celebration, a church missionary trip and a Fourth of July fireworks celebration.
Add nine checks he wrote earlier in the year totaling $1,450 and Campbell has donated back to the community all but $45 of the $5,600 he has received since January.
“I’m doing what I said I would do,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of folks out there that can’t be helped with our (county) community development funds because they are not … nonprofits. These are the kind of organizations and individuals I am trying to help the most.”
During a recent visit with a reporter at The Robesonian, Campbell provided documentation for all of his contributions from April through August.
The only part of his campaign promise that has not been fulfilled is the formation of a committee to help him decide which requests for donations he should support.
“Applications were just coming in so fast that it was easier for me to handle it myself,” Campbell said. “I don’t have the time to keep calling the committee together every time I get a request for money. I can handle it quicker and get it over with.”
Campbell has no community development funds, better known as discretionary money, until July 1, 2016, the beginning of the next fiscal year. The $30,000 a year that was provided the fund in last year’s county budget was spent by Hubert Sealey before he exited the board in December. Campbell defeated Sealey last year in the May primary.
Each commissioner receives a $700 monthly for expenses incurred while traveling and doing business inside the county, receiving the money without having to provide any proof of actual expenses. Using a per-mile reimbursement of 40 cents, a county commissioner would have to travel almost 60 miles a day on county business to reach the $700 mark.
The commissioners receive additional travel money when they do business outside the county.
According to information gathered by the University of North Carolina School of Government, Campbell also receives an annual salary of $14,512.
Campbell told The Robesonian earlier this year that those wanting to receive money have to submit their requests in writing. He also said that those applicants who are not a registered nonprofit have to be represented by a registered nonprofit to be eligible for a donation.
Monte McCallum, a member of the Fairmont Board of Commissioners, told The Robesonian on Wednesday that Campbell’s donation of $200 helped with the town’s May Day Festival.
“He helped us out a lot and I know he’s really trying to help out the whole community,” McCallum said. “He’s a great commissioner. I know he’s trying to hold good to his promise.”
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165.