Elect 2012: Republican commission candidates not all sold on business incentives
By Karissa Minn
SALISBURY — Eight of the nine Republican candidates for Rowan County Commissioner spoke at a forum Thursday about jobs, schools and what the county is doing right.
The forum at Catawba College was sponsored by the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce and the Salisbury Post.
Two of the questions to the Republican candidates dealt with job creation.
Some were asked how they felt about tax incentives and how the county can attract new employers.
“I’m not in favor of incentives,” said Mike Caskey, a patrol officer with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. “I’m not going to say I’d never vote for one, but I really would have to look hard at one I would vote for.”
Deputy Sheriff Joel Johnson and Laura Eller Hutchison, a home health nurse, both said Rowan should offer tax incentives — with conditions attached — to help it compete with other counties.
“We also need to provide substantial funding for existing businesses,” Johnson said.
Hutchison, Sheriff’s Detective Carl Dangerfield and Gene Miller all said the county needs to market itself more aggressively.
“Rowan County has what it needs to attract business and industry,” Hutchison said. “We do have a skilled workforce, and we have infrastructure in place.”
Miller, assistant superintendent of Rowan-Salisbury Schools, said he is philosophically against tax incentives, “however, I did not make the rules of the game” and they are necessary.
Craig Pierce, owner of a construction business, said he supports incentives as part of a “comprehensive economic package” to make Rowan County attractive to employers.
“It does no good to solicit business and industry to come here if we don’t have the resources in place for them to conduct business,” Pierce said.
Other candidates were asked what they would do to decrease the unemployment rate.
“We have to look at what types of businesses we want to attract,” said Granite Quarry Alderman Bill Feather. “We’ve got to look at what skill sets of our people are available.”
Feather said manufacturing jobs will be hard to come by, so the county should work with local colleges to help retrain people.
But Caskey said the county should seek to bring in manufacturing jobs, because many of its unemployed workers are already trained for them.
Gus Andrews, a real estate businessman, said the county should establish relationships with people in Raleigh who can help send employers Rowan’s way.
One question asked how commissioners could encourage improvements in the county’s schools.
“I would never vote to fund the school board at any less than state average,” Dangerfield said. He added that he would work to get more assistance to the classroom.
Caskey said the school and county boards are separate, and he pointed out that voters also can elect school board members if they don’t like what that board is doing.
Caskey, who now serves on the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, and Andrews, former chairman of the Board of Commissioners, said school and county elected officials should meet together regularly so they can communicate better.
“The superintendent and the chair of their board met with us once a month,” Andrews said.
Feather said that while commissioners can control county funding to the schools, they can’t control how the school system spends money.
Instead, he said, commissioners can act as a voice for the people who elected them, share concerns and offer input on how to improve education in the county.
When asked what the county government is doing well, Hutchison, Pierce and Miller all praised the way it balanced and cut the budget every year.
Hutchison and Pierce also both listed the new fire protection and prevention ordinance as a good accomplishment.
Pierce said the county saved its taxpayers money by refinancing long-term bonds, and Hutchison said it took much-needed steps to sell off some land that it owned.
Miller said the county “got rid of a major albatross” by selling its share of the former Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium to Kannapolis.
He also named the renovation of the old jail and construction of a new jail annex, which were both needed because of state regulations and overcrowding.
“We were able to do that and stay within a balanced budget to make it happen,” he said.
Johnson agreed that he is proud of that accomplishment, as well as the county approving incentives for the expansion of Ei Inc. in Kannapolis and helping to fight forced annexation.
Dr. Michael Bitzer, associate professor of political science and history at Catawba, served as moderator for Thursday’s forum. Candidate Mac Butner, who owns a real estate business, did not attend.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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