We have promised publicly — and to more than one commissioner privately — that when the time came to commend the county Board of Commissioners for taking action to roll back its pay and perks, we would do so.
That time is now.
On Monday night, the county Board of Commissioners pared one branch from the tree of benefits when members voted unanimously to immediately end a deferred compensation plan that was falsely advertised as being able to save taxpayer dollars. Commissioner Tom Taylor made the motion, and all six county commissioners in attendance — Chairman Noah Woods, Raymond Cummings, Hubert Sealey, Roger Oxendine, Jerry Stephens and Lance Herndon — raised their hands in favor. Commissioner David Edge was absent from the meeting, but we assure you he too would have voted to get rid of the benefit.
Skeptics will say the commissioners acted only with a gun to their collective head. Perhaps, but we remain convinced that some commissioners, even ones who have voted to create or fatten benefits, were unaware of the excessiveness of the benefits, and in some cases, didn’t even know that they existed.
While this newspaper used sunlight to disinfect, the county commissioners acted not because of what they read here, but what they heard in their communities.
That wasn’t all that was interesting about Monday’s meeting. We have said that there were two problems with the commissioners’ discretionary fund, that it was too fat at $320,000 a year, and that is was administered without accountability, sans a public vote by the board.
Add a third: It is too arbitrary.
On Monday, Taylor wrote a check to the Robeson County Public Library for $5,000, but a representative of the Robeson County Humane Society who came begging was sent away empty handed. The explanation that was given was that the Humane Society, which receives a paltry $1,000 a year from the county, wasn’t a good candidate for discretionary money, because the fund was created to keep money in commissioner districts.
After we scratched our head, we asked a few questions and found that a policy doesn’t even exist on how discretionary money is to be spent. The Robeson County Humane Society’s no-kill shelter is located in Lumberton, but there isn’t a district in the county that doesn’t benefit from that organization’s work. Stray dogs and cats don’t stop at the city line, and when they end up at the county Humane Society’s shelter, the county is saved the expense of picking them up, housing them, feeding them, trying to have them adopted and — if that fails — euthanizing them.
There is no way to calculate the amount of money the Humane Society saves taxpayers, but it’s a lot — far more than $1,000 a year. The Board of Commissioners, we believe, should boost its contribution to the Humane Society through a line-item on the budget, but absent that, then the commissioners should support it with discretionary dollars.
Regardless of how the discretionary fund was envisioned decades ago when it was created, money does not remain in districts. A perfect example is gifts we receive from commissioners each year for our Empty Stocking Fund, money that provides Christmas for poor children across Robeson County.
We know there is already discussion on how to modify the discretionary funds without eliminating them totally. The county on Monday night took a giant step toward better governance, but most of this road lies ahead.