COG defends role in annexation

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Lee Barnes
The Centralina Council of Governments says the Rowan County Commissioners have gotten the wrong idea about the association’s role in forced annexations.
The commissioners have now voted twice to withdraw from the association, also called a COG, citing its role in Salisbury’s forced annexation of the Rowan Airport.
The city annexed the airport in 2006, in effect doubling taxes on airport-related business equipment there. The county and city recently negotiated lower airport tax rates to stay competitive with other small airports in the region.
At the same time, the commissioners complained about Centralina, saying it backs forced annexation. The commissioners now plan to leave the COG, taking their $34,000 in annual membership dues with them.
Al Sharp, Centralina’s director, says the commissioners have the wrong idea about his association’s role in the annexation. He says the COG gives technical assistance to its members, but does not advocate one position or another.
In the case of the airport, he said Salisbury asked the COG to do qualification studies óresearch ó to determine if, among other things, the airport could be forcibly annexed. Sharp said such research is comparable to hiring an engineer.
The bad blood, Sharp said, came when the city annexed the airport without giving a heads up to the commissioners. And there was also a problem of perception, because one of the COG’s senior planners chaired an informational meeting on the annexation.
“I understand how it would appear to be advocacy,” said Sharp. “But that was absolutely not the case.”
He said his staff has taken Rowan’s concerns back to the association’s executive board, “to have them relook at our policies of technical assistance.”
To avoid such appearances of advocacy in the future, he said, “I think there’s a middle ground we need to find.”
As for the county not being aware the annexation was coming, Sharp said, “We have listened — we’re trying to find an appropriate role for us.”
Centralina is the largest of the 17 regional Councils of Government in the state. All nine counties in the region are currently members, along with 62 municipalities. The association has 40 employees.
In addition to the $34,000 in annual dues, Rowan pays an additional $4,000 for an economic developer.
Sharp said his COG is at something of a crossroads in its mission.
“We set goals when I came here seven years ago, and we met those goals,” he said.
His association has conducted three focus groups with some 40 city and county managers in the region to determine “what our role should be, what the expectations are, and what we should be in the future.”
Despite two votes at consecutive meetings to leave the association, the commissioners have indicated that they are mostly trying to “send a message” to Centralina that Rowan isn’t happy about how its money is being spent. The board has raised the possibility that the matter may be reconsidered at a later date.
Sharp says his COG is listening to all of its members. “We expect there to be criticism,” he said. “And we expect there to be ideas.”