State will not take up city’s school central office application next month

The school board voted Monday to move forward with building a 62,000 square foot central office in downtown Salisbury.
The school board voted Monday to move forward with building a 62,000 square foot central office in downtown Salisbury.

SALISBURY — The state’s Local Government Commission will not consider Salisbury’s request to borrow money for construction of the proposed school central office as soon as the city had hoped.

The LGC must sign off before any city in North Carolina can borrow money. Salisbury wants to borrow $7.37 million to build a three-story office building at 329 S. Main St., then lease it to Rowan-Salisbury Schools.

In a timeline of events leading to the proposed opening of the central office in October 2014, the city had planned to have approval from the LGC by Sept. 3 so City Council members could award a construction bid at their meeting that afternoon.

But a spokesman for the Department of State Treasurer said Friday the city’s application has not been scheduled to go before the LGC, a board of nine people that meets every other month.

“We are working with city officials on the application, but we do not anticipate the application being included on the September Local Government Commission agenda,” Press Secretary Schorr Johnson said in an email.

The LGC’s executive committee is scheduled to meet Sept. 10. The full commission meets again Oct. 1.

Staff members for the LGC have been reviewing the city’s application, a two-inch thick document mailed Aug. 5. Staff are expected to make a recommendation to the full commission.

The commission has not issued a preliminary decision, and staff continue to research the application, including contacting city and county officials by phone.

“The staff of the Local Government Commission is assisting the city of Salisbury with their application and time frame, which is a common practice of the LGC,” Johnson said.

Johnson did not answer questions about the application and whether there are specific issues delaying its consideration by the LGC.

Mayor Paul Woodson said he has not been contacted by LGC staff but understands they are doing further review of the application.

“Right now, I understand that they are looking more in-depth to the wishes of the school system, city and county commissioners,” Woodson said.

Woodson said the city is determined.

“We know it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “We don’t give up.”

Staff for the LGC contacted Rowan County about two weeks ago to ask questions about the city’s application, County Manager Gary Page said. Page said he and county Finance Director Leslie Heidrick called the staff back on Aug. 9 and spoke to Tim Romocki, director of debt management for the N.C. Department of State Treasurer, and one of his staff members for about 30 minutes.

Heidrick said she and Page had not talked again to LGC staff, as of Friday.

Dr. Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, said neither he nor school administrators have been contacted by LGC staff.

City Manager Doug Paris said he’s talked with LGC staff by phone. The communication has been “standard,” Paris said.

Paris did not comment on news that the LGC will not consider the city’s application in September.

Earlier in the week, Paris said he felt good about the application.

“We feel confident that we have a strong case for it to be approved,” he said.

The city has presented the office building as an economic development project key to revitalizing the South Main Street corridor. The building is necessary for the city to continue with downtown redevelopment and implementation of the Downtown Salisbury Master Plan, the city argues.

Paris said the city has a tenant ready to go, the school system. The central office and Integro’s new $3.2 million headquarters, which is going up at the other end of the block, are expected to generate $1.25 million in annual retail sales in the downtown.

But the project is controversial because Rowan County commissioners, not City Council, normally would borrow money on behalf of the school system for a new building. Commissioners pulled out of the project, citing environmental contamination at the site, and the city stepped in to finance the building.

A majority of commissioners are opposed to the downtown location. The school board has the authority to choose the location, Miller said.

Paris said opposition to the central office and the city’s involvement has been frustrating.

“It is a project where we’re stepping in to help solve a problem,” Paris said. “There is a small group that prefers it not be downtown. There has been doubt created on every step of the project.”

Miller said he believes the county continues to object to the downtown location and has delayed the city’s application by raising concerns about issues that have been settled.

“I’m ready for all parties to tell the truth,” he said. “… At every venture we get a new torpedo.”

The LGC is composed of nine members: the state treasurer, secretary of state, state auditor, secretary of revenue and five appointees. The commission is staffed by employees of the Department of State Treasurer.

Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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