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Decision on another NYC trip up to future administration

By By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
June 4, 2004
The decision of whether a large group of people will represent Lauderdale County four years from now at a bond rating firm in New York will be up to future county leaders.
Meanwhile, current county officials say they will begin to asses the cost of their March New York trip.
The cost of that trip, including food, hotel rooms, airfare, transportation in New York and airport parking associated with the trip taken by nine people representing the county, totaled $15,360.55, according to information supplied by Lauderdale County Administrator Rex Hiatt on Thursday.
Fees for borrowing the $3.8 million, done through the sell of general obligation bonds to be used to repair and pave county roads over the next four years, totals $85,583.05. An additional amount of about $6,000 is attributed to other expenses, such as making copies, faxes, telephone calls, mail and mileage.
Lauderdale County officials were publicly criticized for taking their trip to New York. Local radio talk show host Eddie Smith asked the board of supervisors to reconsider its travel plans at a board meeting a week before the trip, which he called a vacation at taxpayer expense.
County officials who took the trip said it is important to meet face-to-face periodically with representatives of Moody's Investors Service the bond rating agency the county uses and that going to New York is necessary to maintain the county's good bond rating, which plays a role in determining the interest rate on the county's loan.
The county's bond rating did not change as a result of the March meeting.
A Moody's spokesperson said whether the firm has a face-to-face meeting with bond issuers or not has no bearing on an issuer's bond rating, which is the same as a credit rating. And, District 5 Supervisor Ray Boswell chose not to go to New York because he called the trip unnecessary.
The nine people who went to New York were: Lauderdale County District 1 Supervisor Eddie Harper, Lauderdale County District 2 Supervisor Jimmie Smith, Lauderdale County District 3 Supervisor Craig Hitt, Lauderdale County District 4 Supervisor Joe Norwood, Lauderdale County Administrator Rex Hiatt, Lauderdale County Engineer Neal Carson, board of supervisors attorney Rick Barry, bond attorney Sam Keyes, and financial advisor Demery Grubbs.
Most of the group arrived in New York Thursday, March 25 and returned Sunday, March 28. Several people took their spouses and stayed in New York over the weekend after meeting with Moody's officials on Friday, March 26. Spouses' expenses were not covered by the county, but Hiatt said reduced airfare rates for people who stayed the weekend in New York ultimately resulted in a savings for the county.