The trip to Walldorf, Germany made by Astoria leaders has some residents questioning the use of city funds.

“The simple fact of the matter is the city is footing the bill,” said Patrick McGee of Astoria.

McGee and other residents have said they would like to see accounting information from the trip.

“I would like to see what the true cost of this is,” said Leon Jackson. He added that he didn’t believe there was any benefit to the taxpayers and that the money would be better used to pay for reinstating a city position or fixing roads.

“It’s just the audacity of it,” Jackson said. “It’s just really in your face.” He said if the mayor went, it would be OK, but to send the whole group of city officials was a bad decision considering the city’s needs.

Mayor Willis Van Dusen said Wednesday that news of the response had reached the group while traveling this week, but he said that he and city councilors believe the trip to the sister city is important for the continued relationship between the two.

“We have discussed this as a team and we completely understand this,” Van Dusen said about the reaction to the trip’s cost. “In fact, each one of us, before we were on the council, questioned previous councils on the importance of our sister city relationship. All five of us agree that this trip was important and the city money that was used was justified.”

Van Dusen, councilors Karen Mellin, Arline LaMear, Drew Herzig and Russ Warr, as well as City Manager Paul Benoit and Sister City Committee President Bruce Conner, were each provided round-trip airfare by the city.

The $1,800 for airfare came from the city’s Promote Astoria Fund and its use was discussed in open meetings and also during the budget process, Van Dusen said. He added that none of the funds came from property taxes.

Conner, owner of Sundial Travel and Cruise Center, booked the tickets. He said the city saved more than 35 percent by ordering early through his company.

“The city got the lowest fare,” he said. “They were able to take advantage of the lowest prices available.”

Sundial Travel charges a fee of $50 for international tickets and $30 for domestic tickets.

Some 41 people are part of the group. Fares for spouses of City Council members were not paid for by the city, nor were the tickets for all the other participants, including Paulette McCoy, bicentennial director, and Jim Pierce, the former Oregon State trooper who is chaperoning Astoria High School students, who raised money to go on the exchange trip with Walldorf students.

The city of Walldorf paid for the group’s lodging at Holiday Inn, as well as for meals and transportation, Van Dusen said.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the citizens of Walldorf for their friendship and hospitality,” he said. “In Walldorf, we signed an agreement to re-affirm our commitment to the sister city program.”

Objections raised

Maurie Hendrickson of Astoria said the city’s precarious intersections and other trafffic safety hazards should have been addressed before spending money on plane tickets.

“We have safety and infrastructure issues that have not been addressed,” he said. Hendrickson said he retired to Astoria seven years ago after growing up here and graduating from Astoria High School. Upon returning to the area, he noticed the same traffic hazards he grew up with. “I see these issues still unaddressed after all these years,” he said.

“I just don’t quite agree with it,” McGee said. “The timing is bad. It’s money we don’t necessarily have.

“There are a bunch of students that just went to Walldorf and they had to raise their own money to get there,” he said about the Astoria High School exchange students.

Wednesday was the last day of the scheduled visit to Walldorf and marked the anniversary of John Jacob Astor’s 250th birthday.

“It will be our goal to communicate to the citizens of Astoria the importance of our 50-year relationship, the longest running sister city program of any enemies of World War II,” Van Dusen said.

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