When members of Essex County’s board of supervisors and the deputy county administrator attended an annual conference at a luxury hotel last year, it came at a price: $8,315.99 to county taxpayers.
The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) held the conference, titled “Waves of Changes, Oceans of Opportunity,” from Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at The Homestead, a resort in Hot Springs.
County officials who attended the conference included Deputy Administrator Linda Lumpkin, Greater Tappahannock Supervisor and Chairman Stanley Langford, Central Supervisor Edwin “Bud” Smith, Northern Supervisor Angelo “Jack” Stevens and Southern Supervisor Margaret “Prue” Davis.
According to information provided by Lumpkin, Essex County paid $225 per supervisor and $265 per administrator in registration fees. In total, the county paid $1,165 to register the officials who attended the conference.
The county also reimbursed Lumpkin and the supervisors for mileage, which totaled $1,343.10, and covered the costs for hotel rooms and meals.
Based on a breakdown of the figures, the Homestead rate for the conference was $282.04 per night for each official and included meals, although there was an additional food charge of $24.90 to Lumpkin.
The total charge for rooms came to $2,820.40 for supervisors and $846.12 for Lumpkin.
The notes added that the supervisors’ took their spouses to the conference, but had to pay for their expenses. The costs for spouses are not a part of the $8,315.99.
Despite the cost, Essex officials claimed that they benefitted from attending the annual conference.
Information provided by Lumpkin also indicated that the figures were roughly the same as last year’s county expenditures.
John Clickener, an administrator for the watchdog website EssexSunshine.Org (ESO), said a conference that provided the board with educational programs, networking opportunities and discussions over county issues had the potential to be beneficial for the taxpayers.
“If the county participates in the conference on regular basis, then it ought to provide knowledge that benefits their roles and duties as supervisors,” he said.
Clickener admitted that people had questioned the use of funds for the VACo conference in past years.
“The issue that needs to be thought about is… what is the real purpose in attending?” asked Clickener.
“Is it a mini-vacation at the taxpayers expense, or is it a rigorous professional get-together with topical experts where they gather and exchange information?”
Davis said that the conference was informative and important in bringing the county governments together.
“You get to see everybody from all the other counties,” she added. “The Homestead offers a really good package…it’s the only place where you see the [other supervisors] all year long.”
Davis noted that all of the supervisors from Essex County signed up for various steering committees held by the conference.
Lumpkin participated as part of the Rules and Regulation steering committee, Davis was part of the Environment and Agriculture while Langford signed up for Transportation, Stevens for Government and Smith for Health and Human Resources.
Aside from attending the steering committees, Davis said their time at the conference consisted of information sessions, board meetings and hearing assembly speakers, including William J. Howell, the Speaker for the Virginia House of Delegates and Lenny Eliason, the immediate past President of the National Association of Counties.
Smith said that the meetings and seminars held by the conference give the board “a snapshot” into the current issues faced by the state government.
In turn, the board tries to figure out how those issues will affect the county in order to combat them, Smith added.
Davis noted one session in which the possibility of cutting Bay Transit Services from the Northern Neck was discussed. Davis was opposed to the possibility.
“I think that Bay Transit is an invaluable service around here,” she said.
Davis and Smith have served on the board for 17 and 13 years respectively, and since then have attended the VACo conference every year.
Langford mentioned during the board of supervisors meeting held Feb. 12 that the 2012 annual conference was no different from previous VACo events.
As of press time, Stevens had not returned calls from the Northern Neck News.
In addition to the conference, county costs included a retirement reception honoring J. Leslie Sydnor, Jr., Anne L. Taylor and Lois Ward. The county paid $1,847 for the reception, as well as an additional $269.47 for food and beverages.
According to Lumpkin’s notes, the retirement function honored “over 100 years” of collective government service by the three individuals.
The notes added that the cost of the reception which totaled $2116.47 was not an expenditure associated with the VACo conference from previous years.