WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — New Hanover County Commissioners are wrestling with a budget filled with cuts. But they may be guilty of not cutting back on their own spending.
We requested recent travel expenses from several county commissioners who left the state on county business. The public records reveal $299 a night hotel stays, room service and golf gear.
The expense reports give details on how New Hanover County Commissioners spent tax dollars while out of town on county business. Much of the expenses are understandable, but a few raise some questions.
In February Chairman Jonathan Barfield traveled to Florida for a conference on behalf of the hospital. Part of the conference included a golf tournament. His expense report includes a $225 receipt from the pro shop for a $180 green fee, a $28 hat and a $5 golf ball. Another document shows the green fee was refunded, but still left unaccountable the remaining balance for the hat and ball. Barfield says hotel credits paid for those remaining expenses.
“The hotel we stayed in offered a $50 per day credit, and so being there five days I had $250 dollars worth of credit,” he said.
Another questionable expense is a food receipt from that same trip to Florida. Barfield bought two sandwiches at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. We asked if he expensed part of that meal for his wife, who was with him.
“Well I could of ate the two, but I didn’t eat the two,” Barfield said. “The hospital was sponsoring this trip there, so the hospital reimbursed the county for my expenses.”
But Barfield is not the only one with questionable travel expenses.
At a National Association of Counties Conference in Washington, DC, Brian Berger spent $44 on one dinner from room service. Other expenses include taxi fares. Some don’t draw attention, like one in which he traveled from the hotel to the Capitol building. But there are two receipts where he traveled from the Capitol to the airport, and from the Capitol to Virginia. Keep in mind, on this trip Berger drove a county car.
His expense report also shows Berger claimed $24 for breakfast on March 6 and $36 that night for dinner. The only receipt we received from the county for March 6 for Berger was a $5 Reese’s Sundae from Baskin Robbins.
Barfield, Commissioner Rick Catlin and a county staffer went to DC earlier this month to meet with the EPA about air quality. The trio spent more than $1,600 on flights alone. They also paid $299 a night for three hotel rooms for two nights.
We found neighboring hotels for $120 and even $99.
We talked with Catlin by phone today. He set up the EPA trip. We asked him why they could not save some money by driving instead of flying, and why they stayed at the $299 a night hotel. Catlin said the meeting with the head of the EPA came up on short notice, which left the county with not many traveling options that would work with everyone’s tight schedule. But the records show the flights were booked about a month before the trip.
As for Berger, he has not returned our call for comment.