County to offer $3.45 million for Salisbury Mall
SALISBURY — County leaders voted to offer $3.45 million for the Salisbury Mall and will continue discussions over a disputed December closing date for the property.
In other county news, commissioners:
• voted unanimously to pay $75,000 for a pictometry imaging software that some commissioners say will help the county’s tax assessor’s office and better inform emergency responders.
• voted to speak with county department heads and set up a budget work session to discuss the county’s upcoming fiscal status.
• voted unanimously to cancel the second commission meeting in December as is typical for the commission.
• voted unanimously to support changes to the county’s meeting agenda format to include an online submission form for municipal announcements and activities. Those announcements will be displayed on the county’s website.
• voted unanimously to accept changes to the county’s building code enforcement permit fees, which include: replacing outdated ICC valuation chart with current ICC valuation chart, and adopt a policy to update the ICC valuation chart when published every 6 months; increasing connection inspection fees from $30 to $40, increasing per-fixture fees from $7 to $10 with no increases on residential construction; increasing simple split system — heat pump — from $55 to $75, increasing commercial kitchen hood from $55 to $75 with no increases on residential construction. The new charges also include adding levels to “Wire from Existing,” including one to 25 devices is equivalent to the minimum fee, 26 to 50 devices is equivalent to two times the minimum fee, 51 to 100 devices is equivalent to three times the minimum fee, and more than 101 devices would be equivalent to four times the minimum fee, as well as adding solar permits per system size and installation type with no increases except to reflect minimum fee increase. The county’s minimum fee will increase from $30 to $40 and plan reviews will increase from 1 cent per 1,000 square feet to 2 cents per 1,000 square feet.
In other action
At Monday’s commission meeting, Chairman Jim Sides said the county initially proposed a Nov. 26 closing date, but the property owners asked to move the date to Dec. 16. The change could cost the county about $43,000.
Sides said he didn’t want to waste any potential taxpayer money, but also said the county wanted to get the deal done.
The change in closing dates could cost the county money because of the store leases inside the mall, which are prorated.
With Jon Barber casting the only dissenting vote, the board voted 4-1 to offer the December date while asking the mall owner to start providing the lease funds early.
“I’m certainly OK with the Dec. 16 closing date,” Sides said, “I don’t have a problem with that, it’s just that I think we ought to make the leases effective Dec. 1.”
Monday’s meeting was the first time the county publicly discussed the mall purchase.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell took a few minutes to adamantly support the county’s latest venture, saying he was skeptical at first but has come to see the project as a “once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Mitchell said he would be hesitant to go after the project if a retail investor were in talks with mall owners, but that’s apparently not the case.
“The Salisbury Mall as a retail facility is done,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell defended early criticism of the property’s tax revenue, saying those interested in the mall aren’t planning to use it for retail.
“The property is coming off the tax books anyway, other than the land itself,” he said.
Commissioner Jon Barber stoked the ongoing tension between him and Craig Pierce after Barber asked about putting the mall purchase on the ballot and about the county’s future plans for raising taxes.
“If we’re not willing to allow our citizens to provide input through the vote on a ballot then I would like to see our citizens be able to still weigh in on this issue before we close on Dec. 16 by putting in place an online survey form that citizens can go to and tell us what they think about us purchasing this property,” Barber said.
Barber said he’s heard the county could have to raise taxes by four to five cents next year and said he questioned whether commissioners should purchase the property with possible penny-pinching times ahead.
But Pierce appeared to take the questions as a continued effort by Barber to deter the county’s pursuit of the mall.
Pierce said the county would pay off the property over 10 years, not one year, and the debt service impact would be about $350,000.
“Second of all, ya know, Jon, if you’re going to have to put something on the ballot every time it’s time to make a decision, I don’t know why you want to be a county commissioner. That’s why we were elected, to make these hard decisions,” Pierce said. “You seem to have a problem stepping up and doing your job. If you can’t do the job without having to run out and get everybody’s approval and make the hard decisions that you were elected to do, I don’t know why you come to the meetings.
“You don’t have to agree with everything we do, and it’s obvious you don’t, but you don’t have to question us as if we don’t know what we’re doing. I know four of us know what we’re doing. If you can’t be a part of that, then stop trying to put it off on the general public to make the decisions for you.”
After a couple of other commissioners spoke about the mall financing, Barber responded.
“The reason I show up is to be a voice that is supposed to represent our citizens,” he said, “and right now, in our citizens’ view, this board just has to spend, has to spend, has to spend.”
Sides said Barber has continued to fight the board’s decision and said Barber provided city officials with confidential information related to the mall.
“Jon, I certainly accept the argument that you are a voice for a group of people,” Sides said. “What concerns me is the way you continually fight this board once a decision has been made and then the way that you go out and you take proprietary information that was supposed to be confidential, presented in closed session, and then you make that available to other bodies in this county, actually opening, possibly opening, the county up for another lawsuit. That disturbs me.”
“I will make this comment,” Barber countered. “Do you know that we’ve had citizens that have called auction.com and auction.com has told them everything we’ve voted on and how much we’ve authorized to buy it for?”
“—Auction.com did not provide a bid document to the city of Salisbury,” Sides interjected. “I did not. Craig Pierce did not. Chad Mitchell did not. Mike Caskey did not.”
Following the meeting, a city spokeswoman said the bid information was obtained through Auction.com.
County Manager Gary Page encouraged commissioners to vote to borrow $4 million so the county would have some extra money for any immediate retrofit needs or Phase 1 environmental costs.
Page said he respected commissioners’ decision to ask for the lost lease rate funding, but said discussing the issue in public leaves the county vulnerable to losing that funding by promulgating commissioners’ back-up plan.
“The whole purpose of doing this in closed session and being protected by the statute is we’re sitting here talking about a back-up plan in the event he says, ‘No,’ ” Page said.
Pierce said the county hopes to move the board of elections, a Rowan County Sheriff’s Office warehouse and the Veteran Services Office to the mall if the deal goes through.
But when asked about comments at a recent Republican Men’s meeting about moving more departments out of downtown Salisbury, Pierce said the county could save a lot of money by cutting expensive leases.
“There’s a tremendous amount of money that the county spends leasing properties because we don’t have adequate facilities for all our county properties,” Pierce said. “This is an attempt, if we purchase the mall, to consolidate those under one roof and eliminate the outgoing capital that has been continuing for the last two decades.”
Contact reporter Nathan Hardin at 704-797-4246.