News12 First at Five/ Dec. 2, 2013
Augusta, Ga (WRDW)---Tuesday is the day Augusta Commissioners will vote to approve the 2014 budget. Commissioner conferences could be the first on the chopping block.
"Whatever they've learned is a secret or something, the only thing they've said to me was we had a good time," said Commissioner Grady Smith.
Commissioner Grady Smith is the only one who's stayed put this year. His colleagues have been to conferences all over the country.
"It's fine that you had a good time, but then again what did you go for? Do we need that? We are eight million in the hole," said Commissioner Smith.
"When you go, you grow and learn what other cities are doing. You learn what other communities are dealing with," said Commissioner Marion Williams.
Commissioner Marion Williams has gone to four conferences this year each costing no less than $1,400. At one of those seminars, he says he thought up the Urban Veranda Concept for downtown.
"It's why other cities are progressing and thriving. We complain about what we're not doing. We don't want to go and that means we can't grow," said Commissioner Marion Williams.
In January, Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Commissioners Corey Johnson and Bill Locket racked up a $3,000 bill at a conference in Atlanta. Commissioners Corey Johnson, Bill Lockett, Alvin Mason, Marion Williams and Bill Fennoy had a $12,000 bill for a meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
"I'd like to know what it cost to send each person out there. Why did we need to send five to each trip," said Commissioner Smith.
One of the most expensive trips is a yearly conference in Savannah. It cost taxpayers $14,000 to send eight commissioners and the mayor.
"If our budget is that bad where we can't take a conference and learn something to bring back, then we don't need to be elected," said Commissioner Williams.
Some say the budget is that bad, because it's $7 million in the hole. Commissioners are issued travel vouchers, which include per diems for meals and mileage; hotel costs are paid directly to the hotel.