03/08/10 — Commissioners take issues to D.C.

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Commissioners take issues to D.C.

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 8, 2010 1:46 PM

A contingent of Wayne County leaders will attend the National Association of Counties' annual legislative conference this week.

Commissioners Jack Best, J.D. Evans, Andy Anderson, Steve Keen and John Bell and County Manager Lee Smith will be in Washington, D.C., over the next several days.

The bill for the trip is expected to run about $6,200, not including mileage, which will be calculated once the group returns. Nor does it include the cost for Best, who pays for his own trips.

Also, Smith will pay his own way for a two-day side trip to Baltimore to take continuing education classes.

"You would say, 'Is it worth $6,200?' Well, $6,200 is a lot of money, and I think it is horribly expensive, probably too expensive, but when you go to Washington, D.C., and they hold an event like that, I mean the congressional breakfast is $30 per person. There is nothing inexpensive about it. But one thing commissioners have tried to do is to get Wayne County out there with the other counties in North Carolina."

"Registration was $500 (per person) and that was getting in early. It is expensive to register for these events. Rooms are about $225 plus tax per night. We have stayed in cheaper motels, but you have to get shuttles and run back and forth and you spend the same thing. If you go to Washington, D.C., it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination," Smith said.

Smith noted that Evans often speaks of taking Wayne County to "the next level."

"You are not going to get recognized or you are not going to be a part of the solution if you are not there, and now we are," he said.

One issue Smith said he hopes can be addressed is controversy surrounding the construction of tanker aircraft between Boeing and Northrop Grumman. Smith and Best planned to meet with a delegation from Alabama about the proposal.

"AAR (a local plant) has a very good opportunity, if it is Northrop, to actually get part of that contract," Smith said. "We have been contacted by some folks in Mobile, Ala., where they have a production company there that they would be building for Northrop. They wanted to get together with us and see what we could do with our legislators. We have a representative of Northrop Grumman coming to meet with us and the folks from Mobile, Ala."

Smith said the meeting is an example of how he and the commissioners try to set up additional things to do while in the capital.

"I tell everybody, 'If you go with me, you are going to stay busy from the time you get up until you lay your head down at night because we go to do something. I'd rather not go to Washington, D.C., but if I am there, I am going to spend my time wisely. I'd say with commissioners, they do, too."

Smith said he does not go to the association's annual conference, but does try to attend the legislative conference.

"To me that is one of the better ones because they are talking about issues that are occurring on a federal basis that affect counties nationwide," he said. "We try to, as individuals, space out what we are going to so we can take in as much as we can. We try to get everybody to go to things that they are interested in. For instance one of the sessions that I am going to is community and economic development.

"I am going to one of the committee meetings and roundtable discussion on agriculture and farmland preservation. Panels will have people from the local, state and national levels who will talk about what is working in their area, or a problem or issue that they have."

But most importantly, Smith said, he plans to network with those who will make the decisions that will affect the county in the short and long term.

"You have the opportunity while you are there to go over to the Hill and see your representatives. In our case, the North Carolina Assoc-iation of County Commis-sioners sponsors a couple of events. A lot our congressional folks will show up during that event so you will get to talk with them for a few minutes."

The counties all have similar issues such as Medicaid or sales tax regarding Internet sales, he said.

"That is a big issue because it is unfair competition for local entities where your local tire company has to pay the sales tax, but somebody can go online from out of state, do the same thing and not pay taxes," Smith said. "Well, that is unfair."

Smith will receive mileage for the trip to and from Washington, but not for the trip to and from Baltimore and Washington.

He expects to spend about $900 of his own money for the Baltimore trip and classes.

Some of the programs Smith will attend will also count toward his maintaining his credentials. He has to complete 40 hours of continuing education a year.