Email: Central office fate could end up in county’s hands

SALISBURY — The controversial downtown Rowan-Salisbury School System central office could again require commissioners’ approval, according to an email from Rowan County Finance Director Leslie Heidrick.

The email obtained by the Post describes a conversation between Heidrick, two other county finance employees and Tim Romocki, director of debt management for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer.

“It appears that, if the (Local Government Commission) approves for Salisbury to borrow funds for a Central Office, the transaction would require Board of Commissioner approval of the lease between RSS and the City,” Heidrick wrote to County Manager Gary Page in the exchange.

But supporters of the project said state statute doesn’t require the county to approve the city’s plan to fund the project.

Commissioners voted against funding the central office earlier this year — prior to the city’s pledge — and several county leaders have remained adamant against the structure planned for the 300 block of South Main Street.

Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said he wasn’t sure how he would vote if the matter were to come back to the county.

“I’ve already voted one time not to fund the central office in downtown Salisbury,” Pierce said. “I still feel that way as far as the county being involved. I’d have to see what the proposal was before I make any idea as far as which way I’d go on it.”

Commissioner Jon Barber said he would support the agreement.

“If it has to come back before us we should approve it and get out of the way,” Barber said. “Just like we asked the city of Salisbury to de-annex the airport and get out of the way.”

But City Attorney Rivers Lawther said it won’t come to that, citing a state statute that he said doesn’t require counties to approve certain leases.

“There is a statute that does require the county commission to approve certain leases that the school board enters into,” Lawther said. “But the proposed lease that Salisbury is offering does not require, the statute does not require, the LGC to require the county board of commissioners to approve” the lease.

Assistant City Manager John Sofley said the proposed lease meets the requirements of an operating lease that would not require approval by the county.

“The city has the authority to issue debt for economic development and build an office building. We also have the authority to lease this facility. We do have to have LGC approval for issuance of the debt, but there is nothing in the General Statutes that requires the county approving this debt issuance,” Sofley said in an email. “The General Statutes also provide that RSSS can enter into operating leases without the county’s approval. In fact, RSSS has several of these currently.

“I have been working with our bond attorney, Ed Lucas, on the drafting of a lease that meets the requirements to be an operational lease and the issuance of debt for economic development.”

Commission Chairman Jim Sides, commissioners Chad Mitchell and Mike Caskey and County Attorney Jay Dees could not be reached for comment.

Rowan-Salisbury School Board Chairman Richard Miller said the Local Government Commission does not need the county’s approval because the schools got a lease before discussing a lease-purchase relationship.

“For some reason, everybody seems to be searching so hard for a reason not to that they mix and match things that don’t mix and match together,” Miller said.

“It does not apply to this situation because we first got a lease before we got the lease-purchase relationship,” he said. “What the county is trying to use to torpedo the downtown site does not apply.”

Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.

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