When we asked our readers in a poll about four months ago whether they believed our county commissioners would roll back their pay and benefits, more than 700 responded, and they spoke in almost a singular voice: Eighty-six percent said the commissioners would not cut their pay and benefits.
It was a disappointing indictment of this county’s leadership.
At the time, we disagreed with the poll’s respondents, believing what at least four county commissioners told us. We will paraphrase, but the four — Chairman Noah Woods and Commissioners Tom Taylor, Roger Oxendine and David Edge — acknowledged in face-to-face conversations that a problem existed and that it would be addressed.
While we still have faith in those four, more votes are needed, and our confidence that corrections will occur erodes each day that they don’t.
Just to make sure everyone is caught up, we will remind you that this newspaper did research last year showing that Robeson County commissioners’ pay and stipend when combined is the fourth highest in the state, their health benefits are better than county employees and unlike any enjoyed by county commissioners elsewhere. They have a retirement plan, and their discretionary fund, which provides $40,000 a year for each commissioner to disburse as he pleases, is unmatched. The commissioners immediately scuttled a plan that allowed them to continue receiving a salary after leaving office when it wilted under the sunlight this newspaper provided.
All this in perhaps the poorest county in North Carolina, where property is taxed at one of the highest rates in the state and many needs go unattended.
The commissioners directed County Manager Ricky Harris to use his staff to conduct his own study, which they received on Nov. 21. The commissioners at the time said they would address their pay and benefits after the holidays, which have now passed.
On Wednesday, they begin a three-day retreat, and it doesn’t seem likely that their pay and benefits will be addressed. Woods, the chairman, is cryptic about the commissioners’ plans, but it appears they expect to discuss the matter while crafting the budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
That the commissioners called for the study suggests they believed, based on our reporting, that a problem existed. As the study confirmed our findings, the obvious conclusion is that action is needed.
If the commissioners skip the opportunity to address their pay, benefits and discretionary fund this week, and kick that ball down the road five more months, then the conclusion will be simple — that the commissioners intend to milk this cow as long as possible.
They have a chance this week to prove us wrong — as well as most Robesonians, who clearly don’t have faith that they will do the right thing.
As they won’t answer our questions on the matter, perhaps they will yours. If you would like to ask your commissioner directly, here are their phone numbers: Chairman Noah Woods, District 4, 910-521-9006; Raymond Cummings, District 5, 910-521-4934; Tom Taylor, District 7, 910-739-6403; David Edge, District 6, 910-258-1166; Lance Herndon, District 8, 910-733-5482; Roger Oxendine, District 3, 910-628-8667; Jerry Stephens, District 1, 910-671-1991; and Hubert Sealey, District 2, 910-628-5923.