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By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Eight Republican candidates for county commissioners tackled issues ranging from abortion to raising taxes during the first forum of the election season.
Not a single candidate stepped forward to sign a no-tax-increase pledge, and half of the candidates spoke up for a woman’s right to choose on the question of abortion.
Republicans will pick two candidates in the May 6 primary for the Rowan County Board of Elections.
During the forum Tuesday night, candidates answered nearly a dozen questions each in a fast-paced session where answers were limited to one minute or less.
The forum at the Tadlock South Rowan Library, sponsored by the Rowan County Republican Men’s Club, included a series of questions to gauge each candidate’s Republican credentials.
Those questions revealed more differences among candidates than the questions dealing with taxes, schools, incentives and annexation.
All but one of the candidates said they oppose involuntary annexation.
Von Coolidge Poston, who operates a business in downtown Salisbury, said the city is following the law and he doesn’t consider the planned annexation of the N.C. 150 west area forced.
Others, including Patty Overcash, of Landis, and Donna Peeler, of Rockwell, called for the county and city to sit down and resolve the issues. “I don’t think it should be settled in court,” Overcash said, referring to the county’s hiring of an attorney to fight the annexation.
Mike Miller, a China Grove resident and Salisbury businessman, said the city is following the laws on annexation. He questioned whether the county will come to the rescue of other areas that may face annexation.
“We sat down with the city, they won’t compromise,” responded Jim Sides, the lone incumbent seeking re-election. He argued that courts will decide whether the city is following the law.
No tax pledge
One by one, candidates said they would not sign a pledge to not increase taxes.
“If I had signed it two years ago, I would have broke the promise,” Sides said. While voting against an increase in the tax rate, Sides said the revaluation has everybody paying more taxes. Ticking off list of potential county projects ó a new jail, a new central office for the school system, new schools ó Sides held out little hope that taxes won’t increase.
“There’s tons and tons of money needed,” said Carl Ford, owner of Ford Broadcasting of China Grove. “I’ll do my dead level best never to gouge taxpayers.”
“Doing business costs more,” said Ken Deal, who is retiring as the county director of administration. A China Grove resident, Deal described the $200 million list of projects presented to commissioners last month as staggering.
Others suggested a wide range of ways to mitigate the tax burden. Overcash called for more retail. Peeler, who retired from retail marketing, suggested more public-private partnerships and thinking outside the box.
Poston offered a different perspective on potential tax increases. “You can’t change yesterday. You can’t predict tomorrow. … Live in the moment.”
Schools
All candidates lauded improvements in the Rowan-Salisbury School System, but split over whether merging Cleveland and Woodleaf elementary schools is a good idea.
Overcash, a teacher assistant at Landis Elementary for 20 years, said she likes small community schools but noted that commissioners will decide if money is available to build two new schools rather than one.
Miller praised current commissioners for increasing funding and said schools are making great strides under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom.
Ford and Miller said the school board should listen to the Cleveland and Woodleaf communities who oppose a merged school.
Peeler said bigger schools offer more technology and more benefits for the students.
Rivera said schools need to be kept small, stressing that children can get lost in big schools and big classes.
“I’m not running for the school board,” said Sides, adding that he won’t attempt to run the schools.
He said the county currently provides the schools $30 million a year for operations which is the state’s job, and $10 million a year goes to pay debt on school bonds.
Incentives
All but one of the candidates supported incentives as a way of attracting business and industry. Sides, an outspoken opponent of incentives that rebate taxes, said he has never voted for such incentives and won’t in the future.
Sides contended that keeping taxes low and offering a sort of one-stop shop to answer questions for business is the best way to attract industry.
Ford said incentives are necessary, but favors tweaking the county plan and putting emphasis on creating more jobs, rather than tax base.
Miller said incentives are essential in getting site consultants to consider the county. Without incentives, he said, the county will get 100 percent of nothing.
He went on to praise Sides and Commissioner Tina Hall for pushing for an impact study on the Wind Tunnel eXtreme project. Although the county’s policy requires a study on each incentive grant application, the requirement had largely been ignored.
Deal said the county is on the brink of a lot of opportunities, particularly with the airport, and must make use of incentives.
Farmland preservation
All candidates appeared to support farms and their impact on the county’s quality of life, but ran in many directions on whether tax dollars should be used to support farmland preservation.Overcash, Sides and Ford said they would not support using tax dollars for farmland preservation. Sides noted several existing program, including the farm-use tax deferment, already provide farmers huge tax breaks.
Deal suggested that farmland preservation would require educating citizens.
Miller cited the value of farming for the environment and the economy, indicating he would support spending tax dollars for preservation.
Others talked about the benefits of farming, including Harry Rivera, who said his father worked on a farm in Puerto Rico and later in New York. Rivera who spent a decade in the U.S. Navy and now works for Freightliner, said more of the food produced in this country needs to be kept here.
Poston took a different view, linking annexation to farmland preservation. He suggested the county could stop annexation by preserving more farms.
Party officials announced several upcoming events, including the next Republican Men’s Club meeting, which will be April 5 at 8:30 a.m. at Ryan’s on Jake Alexander Blvd.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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