Despite facing a projected $6.6 million budget deficit Wilmington city officials believe the trip to the National League of Cities annual conference was worth it. All seven Wilmington City Council members, the city manager, and the city clerk attended the conference. Officials say the trip may have already paid for itself. The nightly cost for each room at a DC hotel was about $300. Dinners at Ruth’s Chris and Georgia Brown’s for nine Wilmington officials, some spouses and guests totaled $1,000. That being said, attending the National League of Cities annual conference was priceless, according to those who attended. “This is a very important congress and a very important stimulus package and once it's gone it's gone and you're not going to be able to go back and get any more,” stated Mayor Bill Saffo. For taxpayers, the total cost of the trip was $19,000. City residents wonder if they couldn't have trimmed the cost. “They might have taken half the city council, instead of the entire city council, and have achieved just the same thing for half the money,” said Wilmingtonian Carol Hernandez. Council members say given the economic climate it was important to have many voices supporting Wilmington. “There is money coming through the economic recovery package, and we want certainly our share and frankly if you're not there to ask you may not get what you're looking for,” explained Laura Padgett, Wilmington City Council member. Padgett said the trip helped get $1.5 million in stimulus money for the Nesbitt Court demolition. Residents say they appreciate the support for the port city... To a point. “If you're going to try to get money to try and help us, a $300-a-night room doesn't look good,” said Wilmington resident Bill Wilson. Council member Ron Sparks says staying in the hotel where the conference took place was expensive, but helpful. “We felt it was so important for us to be in Washington, we said yes it's going to cost us $20,000 or so, but we need to be there.” The council hopes spending money now will help save and create jobs later. Sparks pointed out the city canceled a November trip to a National League of Cities event in Orlando because of the economy. As for the spouses, they did not pay to attend the conference and there was no extra hotel charge. Padgett would not comment on her feelings about bringing spouses on the trip, but said at least one council member’s spouse paid for her own meal.
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