Rowan commissioners disagree over tax windfall

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
A surprise proposal to spend a mini-windfall of county tax dollars quickly bit the dust earlier this week.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners got a bit of good news recently when company that does business tax audits netted an additional $365,000 from Freightliner from discovered property.
After the county pays the company a 30 percent finders fee, it will have $270,000 to go into the fund balance, which is going to take a major hit this year.
Two commissioners wanted to spend the money immediately to plug a hole in the Rowan-Salisbury School System budget and eliminate one furlough day for county employees, but a majority said the county should hold on to the money.
Commissioners approved furloughs and other cuts last month to fill a $4.7 million budget hole due to a drastic reduction in sales tax collections and state cuts.
While voting on routine budget amendments, the board agreed to take $3,850 from fund balance ó the county’s savings ó to donate to the United Way’s food program for laid-off workers.
Vice Chairman Jon Barber then offered a motion to use the discovery money to fund the laid-off worker food program and use $130,000 to eliminate one of three unpaid furlough days for county employees. And Barber, a teacher at Southeast Middle School, said the remainder would go to the Rowan-Salisbury School System. Barber also included using $56,000 left over in the classroom supply funding.
The county has asked Rowan-Salisbury to return 1 percent of the county allocation, which is $345,000, to help with the $4.7 million county shortfall this year. The county has requested Kannapolis City Schools return $45,000.
Responding to a question, Barber said he was not including Kannapolis schools in his proposal.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain supported Barber, calling the proposal a “win-win for the county and the Rowan-Salisbury schools.”
But Commissioner Chad Mitchell, a teacher at East Rowan, blasted the proposal and the problems caused by the state taking money away from schools and other programs.
“We’ll never be able to fill the holes the state makes,” Mitchell said, adding that the county needs to hang on to the windfall dollars, not knowing what the state may do next.
Commissioner Tina Hall noted the county is already spending $2 million out of fund balance to get through the year.
“There may be more state surprises,” Hall said.
Chairman Carl Ford made clear he didn’t like the state surprises or the surprise served up by Barber and Coltrain.
He compared the discovery dollars to finding a $20 bill in a jacket. Ford said in good times you could go out and blow it.
“This isn’t good times,” he said.
The board voted 3-2 to reject the Barber amendment.