Three members of the Caroline County Board of Supervisors and the county administrator attended the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) annual conference last fall at a cost to county taxpayers of $5,020.13.
The association’s three-day conference was held at The Homestead, a luxury resort hotel in Bath County, in November.
The delegation of Caroline County officials that attended consisted of Supervisors Wayne Acors, Calvin Taylor, and Floyd Thomas along with County Administrator Charles Culley. Acors is a member of the VACO board of directors.
The association’s annual conference, held Nov. 11-13, was dubbed ‘Waves of Change, Oceans of Opportunity.’
The county paid a registration fee of $225 for each person who attended the conference. In addition, The Homestead rate for the conference was $280.69 per person per night, which includes meals. The county also reimbursed the supervisors for driving back and forth to the conference.
The total cost to the county for each supervisor was $1,297.07 for Acors, $1,295.49 for Taylor and $1,641.19 for Thomas, according to information provided by Frances Hatcher, county finance director.
Although the conference was three nights, Thomas stayed four nights at The Homestead, which was the main reason his tab was $330 higher than the other supervisors.
Thomas did not respond to an e-mail asking why he stayed an extra night.
In addition, neither Acors, Taylor, or Thomas responded to an e-mail questioning the wisdom of having the county spend more than $5,000 for the four men to attend the three-day conference.
In addition to the meals that were included in the hotel rate, Thomas spent another $58.11 on meals while Acors spent $8 and Taylor spent $6.42, according to information provided by Hatcher.
The county reimbursed Acors and Taylor $222 for mileage and Thomas, $235.52.
Culley’s attendance at the convention – he stayed only two nights at The Homestead – cost the county $786.38, which is the exact total of the rate for two nights plus the registration fee. He drove a county vehicle, so he was not reimbursed for mileage.
The supervisors took their wives to the conference, but they had to pay the expenses of their spouses, noted Hatcher. Those figures aren’t part of the $5,020.
It’s not the first time members of the Board of Supervisors have attended the annual VACO conference at the luxury resort on the county dime. For example, Acors, Thomas, and former supervisor Bobby Popowicz attended in 2011, which cost the county $4,693.48.
In recent years the county, like other local governments, has struggled financially, and the Board of Supervisors has cut spending, reduced funding for schools, and increased taxes.
Acors and Thomas said they benefited from the 2012 conference through their attendance at various seminars and briefings. Taylor did not respond to an e-mail asking what he got out of the conference.
“I have found these conferences extremely beneficial and helpful when dealing with complex issues that other localities have worked through,” Acors said via e-mail.
Acors said he attended a briefing on the state budget that provided information about how much aid local governments could expect in the next budget year. He also attended a seminar on transportation. “I was able to express Caroline’s concern about tolling I-95 to transportation officials as well as state Senator John Watkins,” said Acors. Watkins, who lives in Chesterfield County, has proposed an alternative plan to fund transportation projects.
Thomas said he attended several conference sessions and also met with supervisors of other localities that face similar issues as Caroline. The best briefing he attended was on bringing broadband communications services to underserved areas, he said.
“This session gave me several ideas on how to bring broadband to more of the county and how we deal with the new mandated radio system,” Thomas said via e-mail. “With the information from this session and other factors, I’m sure that we will reduce the costs of the radio system by quite a bit of money.”
Caroline, like other local governments, is under a mandate from the Federal Communications Commission to improve its radio communications system.
“I’ve never been to the VACO conference,” said Supervisor Jeff Sili. “If you read the VACO material, I don’t know if their views and my views line up. I’ll go to the General Assembly…several times a session and speak first-hand to lawmakers.”