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Rockwell candidates discuss annexation, growth

By Elizabeth Cook
ecook@salisburypost.com
ROCKWELL ó Candidates for the town board discussed annexation, downtown revitalization, economic development and other topics at the Rockwell Community Association meeting Monday night.
About 20 people gathered at the Civic Center for the association’s monthly dinner meeting and the forum, co-sponsored by the Salisbury Post.
Participating were Chuck Bowman, Justin Crews, Tim Draper, Eric Moore and Chuck Wingerson. The other person on the ballot, Bill Ridenhour, did not attend.
They are running for five seats on the town board, each for a two-year term.
Dr. Michael Bitzer of Catawba College moderated. Here are some of the topics:
– Bringing business to Rockwell: Crews, who has run for alderman once before, said incentives were a good idea, and improving downtown would help. “Advertising is the main thing ó getting the word out that we are here and business-friendly.”
Draper, a member of the town board for two years, said the town’s budget might not be able to handle incentives in the current economy, but proposals could be considered case by case. He supported more refurbishing and beautification of the downtown.
Moore, running for office for the first time, said the town should be careful with incentives, since it could be “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The entire community should help recruit business to the downtown, he said. “We need to get our name out there.”
Wingerson, seeking his seventh term on the board, suggested the town offer incentives to upgrade downtown facades. He said the town could work with the Rowan County Economic Development Commission by advertising Rockwell on the EDC Web site. “We’re not going to get a Walmart in downtown Rockwell,” Wingerson said, “but we are going to get and can get small businesses.” The old Holshouser Hardware store will soon be home to two businesses, he said.
(A sporting goods store and a gun shop may be in the works in the former hardware store, others said.)
Bowman, on the board for two years, said the town is making small strides, such as new sidewalks. Now the downtown group needs to become a corporation and gain nonprofit status, he said. The town was able to land an Ace Hardware store because a member of the committee realized Rockwell could support such a business, and it can support more. “McDonald’s and Sonic do not come without knowing the numbers,” Bowman said.
– Annexation: Candidates supported annexation in varying degrees.
Crews called it a “necessary evil” that had to be used if Rockwell is to grow, but the town should be sure it can offer services to the new area.
Moore said he did not like involuntary annexation. “I’m not real big on forcing people into something they don’t want to do.”
Wingerson said 63 percent of Rowan County’s population is in cities and towns. “Municipalities are the heart of Rowan County,” he said. He would not support trying to take in everything from Gold Hill to Granite Quarry, he said, but there may be areas where people want services and the city can deliver them at a reasonable price. “Annexation is a good thing if it’s done properly,” he said.
Bowman said the board was debating annexation when he was sworn in. “I’m not sure Rockwell will grow without annexation,” he said. The board decided to postpone annexation once aldermen saw the controversy Salisbury’s annexation proposal was causing. “Everybody’s not going to agree.”
Draper went on the board at the same time as Bowman and said they were “thrown in the fire.” The town needs to pick and choose, he said, proposing annexation at the right time and choosing communities that want town services. “I’m not in favor of it, but I think we need to look at it and keep an open mind.”
– Sales tax increase: Asked if they would support Rowan County’s proposed .25 percent increase in the sales tax, all the candidates said they wanted to know what it would be used for, and most of them said they would oppose the increase because of the economy.
Wingerson said he would support the increase if the revenue was going for a good purpose and would not be subject to commissioners’ bickering. He compared it to a use tax, and said a sales tax increase would be fairer than an increase in the property tax.
Bowman said the county needed to do what Rockwell did ó forego raises and cut back. “I’m not really in favor of any kind of tax increase right now. … They say it’s not much, but it adds up.”
Crews, Draper and Moore said the timing was bad for a tax increase.
Commissioners proposed the tax increase to finance a new communications system for emergency services and to build a jail annex in the county.
– Top three budget priorities: Bowman put emergency services such as fire and police at the top of his list, followed by all other town services and town employees.
Crews said everything in the budget helps make the town work and he didn’t think any one department was better than another.
Draper gave a top four, putting emergency services first, followed by employees, the park and revitalization of the downtown.
Moore gave emergency services top billing, followed by public works and keeping the parks and other services running efficiently.
Wingerson listed emergency services, public employees and town services. He said Rockwell had the second-lowest municipal property tax rate in the county. Only Cleveland is lower, he said, and that was because Freightliner was part of its tax base.
– Proudest votes: Draper said changing the town’s trash contractor “was a very big deal,” and citizens got better service as a result.
Moore echoed that, saying service is much better.
Wingerson cited the evaluations and merit raises given employees a couple of years ago.
Bowman was most glad the town finally got to repave its sidewalks.
Crews said the balanced budget was the board’s best work.
Election Day is Nov. 3.

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