Council members wince at cost of their own party

Staff writerDecember 5, 2009 

  • Food: $23 x 300 people= $6,900

    Drink: $8 x 300 people = $2,400

    Total:* $9,854.66

    * includes 22 percent service charge, 20 percent discount and sales taxes

— Taxpayers shelled out nearly $10,000 for food and drink at a reception for the newly sworn-in City Council on Monday, one day before members began discussing a possible property tax increase.

The public reception was planned for 300 people at the Raleigh Convention Center and organized by Jayne Kirkpatrick, director of the city's public affairs department.

On the menu: fresh fruit, imported and domestic cheese trays with crackers, antipasti, hibachi beef skewers and curried chicken kebabs, at $23 per person.

To wash it down, city taxpayers paid an additional $8 a person for a selection of chardonnay and merlot wines, beer, sodas and bottled water.

The total was $9,854.66 after factoring in a service fee, sales taxes and the city's discount.

"Gosh," Mayor Charles Meeker said. "That's more than it should be, particularly in this economy."

Meeker, who was sworn in for his fifth term, didn't eat or drink at the function.

In contrast, the Wake County Public School System paid $749.66 this week for lemon bars, brownies, punch and coffee at Tuesday's reception for four new board members. But that bill is being picked up by members of a parents' group.

The council reception was held the night before the council met for the first time and discussed a possible 3-cent property tax increase over the next five years to pay for a new $205 million public-safety center and several other major public works projects.

Each penny increase would add $20 a year in new taxes for a house with an assessed value of $200,000.

Council members Mary-Ann Baldwin, Thomas Crowder, Bonner Gaylord and John Odom all echoed Meeker's surprise and disapproval.

"Ten thousand dollars is too much to pay for an event of that size," Gaylord said.

Councilwoman Nancy McFarlane thought a cash bar would have been appropriate. Mayor Pro Tem James West could not be reached for comment and councilman Russ Stephenson declined to speak without hearing first from city staff.

There was no cost to use the convention center itself, which is funded through city and county hotel tax funds, and setup for the event was all handled by city employees, Kirkpatrick said.

Kirkpatrick coordinated with Raleigh Convention Center Director Roger Krupa for the event and ordered the same type of food as she had in past years. The price of 2007's swearing-in reception couldn't be located, she said.

"It makes me a little uncomfortable," said councilwoman Baldwin. "Something like that probably sends the wrong message in these economic times."

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.

sarah.ovaska@ newsobserver.com or 919-829-4622

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