When The Robesonian began calling county commissioners for their comments on a Page 1A story in today’s edition about how they are compensated, more than one asked why we were doing the story. So we will share our thinking with not only these elected officials, but you.
This newspaper has been asked more than once to spotlight how our county commissioners are paid, with the requests usually coming in mid-April during even-numbered years. We have no desire to enlist as an ally in an effort to unseat a county commissioner, so we have always passed.
With the commissioners election having just been held and a single race to be decided in November, now is a good time for this county’s taxpayers to know how generously they are paying the commissioners. Additionally, our county commissioners have been very vocal about being stingy with taxpayers dollars, an effort that includes these vacuous gestures — more than one public flogging of the president of Robeson Community College for expenses on that campus, and a decision to cut $100,000 from economic development in a county gasping for jobs, doing so when other county departments were fully funded.
We didn’t know what we would find when we went looking. But if the commissioners in a county that is among the poorest in the state had been compensated in the middle or the back end of this state’s 100-county pack, you wouldn’t be reading this, and there would be no Page 1A story.
Instead, our county commissioners are the fourth highest paid in the state, behind Mecklenburg, Cumberland and Guilford counties and just ahead of Brunswick, all much more affluent, making Robeson the answer to the question of who doesn’t belong at that table.
And the stipend paid Robeson commissioners for expenses they may — or may not — incur, is the highest in the state. The commissioners aren’t even required to produce an expense report like every other county employee; and, assuming the county’s 45-cent-a-mile reimbursement rate, the stipend of $700 a month could only be reached by a commissioner driving 52 miles for each day in a 30-day month.
Throw in retirement and health insurance, and the commissioners are doing quite well, earning a compensation in the neighborhood of two times the average yearly wage in this county.
Their job is hard, around the clock, and this county is the largest in the state. But are the commissioners deserving of that level of compensation?
That will forever be a judgment call, but some things are black and white: As examples, this county is among the poorest in the state with more than a third of the population on food stamps, our jobless rate is among the highest in the state, we are No. 1 in violent crime and No. 3 in property crime, our property tax rate is the 17th highest in the state, and we are on the wrong end of most quality-of-life lists.
Now we understand that if the commissioners were to cut their pay, that decision would be symbolic. But given the commissioners’ eagerness for symbolic gestures in a transparent effort to promote their guardianship of taxpayers dollars, why not just one more?