Last week someone publicly questioned my work schedule and travel expenses. I will respond.
The implication was that the costs I incurred to Raleigh to attend the League of Municipalities Legislative Dinner were excessive. The initial plan was for me to ride with the town manager, but he had an unanticipated town commitment that prevented his attendance. Since we were already registered, and the town needed representation, I drove my vehicle since I do not have access to the town vehicle. For the record, I received the standard mileage rate for a nearly 700 miles/24-hour round trip. I did not stay at the downtown Marriott or Sheraton at rates over $250. I stayed at the Holiday Inn that gives elected officials an $88 a night rate.
At the dinner, I conversed about pressing issues with Senator Jim Davis and Representative Kevin Corbin. Prior to the dinner, I attended two presentations on workforce housing and community broadband, both relevant town issues.
I average a weekly work schedule of about 20 hours. Normally I keep morning office hours, and I routinely meet with residents and staff throughout the week. I am always on call if there is any problem that needs my attention. On many days, including evenings, I represent the town at community functions and ceremonies. Contrary to the suggestion that I attend a “coffee klatch,” those monthly community coffees require planning and preparation, as does the weekly radio show and this column. I gladly embrace these efforts as a way of keeping citizens informed.
My duties require travel to regional and state meetings. Very rarely do I charge the town mileage for attending these rather important sessions. For instance, my trip to Raleigh this past fall to meet with the NC Attorney General’s staff concerning our hospital sale cost the town of Highlands nothing. I do not possess a town credit card.
My $5,000 a year breaks down to about $96 a week with no benefits. If folks believe I’m not busy enough considering my compensation, please let me know how I can improve.
Also, questions have been raised concerning publishing the names of delinquent utility accounts after an extended period where electric, water, and sanitation fees have not been paid. The town is allowed by law to do this, just as the county publishes names of folks who fail to pay property taxes. This effort is not so much a “public shaming,” but rather a last collection effort before debt is written off the books.
The town board adopted this policy a number years ago after a lenient policy had resulted in the write off an unsustainable quarter of a million dollars in unpaid accounts. Payment and disconnect policies were instigated mirroring other utilities like Duke Energy and Haywood. We also adopted a catch-up policy for people who get behind with their bill. We also refer folks to community assistance programs.
The state requires the town to operate our utilities as enterprise funds. These utilities have to be self-sustaining, and yes, they make a profit that goes into the town reserve funds. These reserves help maintain utility infrastructure, plus hold down town debt property taxes. If a company like Duke operated the Highlands electric utility, I guarantee they would make a profit that would go to stockholders rather than to the local community. Our rates for all utilities are on the low side of the spectrum, while our service and immediate response time is surely an added value.
- Town of Highlands Mayor, Pat Taylor