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Editorial: Grassroots work on tax paid off

Try to figure out how Rowan County voters passed a local sales tax increase in the midst of a sour economy, and you keep coming back to ó is this right? ó volunteer firefighters.
The Rowan County Fire and Rescue Association played a key role in drumming up support for the quarter-cent sales tax increase because the bulk of the extra $20 million expected over the next 10 years will go toward communication upgrades for fire, rescue and emergency operations.
The 55 percent support for a tax increase is testimony, in part, to how intertwined association members are in Rowan County communities.
Just think of the interaction firefighters, for example, have in their individual sections of the county through constant fund-raisers, meetings, educational events and the performance of their duties.
This group of men and women screams “grassroots.”
Going into Tuesday’s referendum, it was a legitimate question whether county officials had done enough to make their case for the sales tax increase, which also will pay for construction of a jail annex.
A visible media campaign was non-existent, except for standard pre-election newspaper stories or county officials’ appearances on radio talk shows.
The real work apparently was being done at ground level by fire department, Rescue Squad and EMS members. With county officials, they were meeting with civic groups across Rowan County to spread the word about the proposed tax increase and why they thought it was needed.
In the end, only two distinct sections of the county had a majority of their residents vote against the sales tax increase.
County Commissioner Raymond Coltrain believes the Spencer-East Spencer area frowned on the sales tax question because it is not as active in the Fire and Rescue Association and voters didn’t have as much information as they needed.
A conservative southern section of the county, including the Rowan County portion of Kannapolis, also voted against the sales tax increase. In a post-election interview, Kannapolis Mayor Robert Misenheimer said it was not explained to his city’s residents very well.
“The people just didn’t understand what it was about,” he said.
There were other reasons to support the sales tax increase. Many voters saw it as an either-or question, and they favored a sales tax increase as the fairer, less burdensome alternative than a property tax hike or drastic cuts to other county services.
Still, give credit where credit is due ó the Fire and Rescue Association was important.
And anyone thinking about a future run for public office might want to start making connections with local volunteer firefighters right away.

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