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Editorial – Vote for sales tax – Quarter-cent will go far

Voters concerned about public safety and wise governing will mark “for” on the ballot Tuesday in response to a question regarding Rowan County’s proposed sales tax increase.
If you haven’t heard much about the tax increase, perhaps that’s because it’s not much of an increase. The sales tax in Rowan would go up one-quarter percent, or one penny for every $4 at the cash register.
For families struggling through unemployment or people on a fixed income, even every quarter-penny counts. But this tax will not be levied on food purchases. And the merit of the projects proposed outweighs the cost of the increase by a long shot.
The biggest project involves bringing emergency communications in Rowan into a new era in keeping with federal regulations. The National Public Safety Telecommunications Council has a digital clock on its Web site, counting down the days, hours, minutes and seconds until mandatory “narrowbanding” goes into effect in 2013. The change affects communications for local emergency responders ó firefighters, law enforcement and emergency medical services. To make the transition to digital and ensure coverage in some of Rowan’s telecommunications dead zones, county officials have tentatively planned to build three more radio towers and buy 1,000 new radios. Those expenses should be more than covered by the $12 million set aside for the project in the bond issue.
Another $6 million is proposed for a new jail annex in the county. The Rowan County Detention Center in downtown Salisbury has been over capacity for several years, and state officials have said they must see Rowan make progress toward alleviating the crowding there. Already Rowan is paying Sampson County $650,000 a year to hold local inmates. To satisfy the state, commissioners committed last year to build a facility for at least short-term use to hold about 100 inmates. This is an immediate, pressing need.
Both of these projects are coming, regardless of what happens Tuesday. Should the referendum fail, the pressure will fall on commissioners to raise taxes or cut back funding in other areas to pay for the annex and the communications improvements. County parks, libraries and other services have already scaled back, and schools are doing all they can to keep teaching positions. Cutting deeper should be the last resort. Vote “for” on Tuesday to fund these projects in the smartest way and keep county services intact.

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