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County may quit Council of Governments over Salisbury annexation

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Rowan County commissioners said Monday they are considering pulling out of the Centralina Council of Governments over its role in preparing an annexation study for the city of Salisbury.
And the Board of Commissioners listened intently to a financial analysis of the proposed annexation that put the cost to Salisbury residents at $36 million instead of the $1.1 million estimated in the city’s annexation report.
The city will conduct a public hearing at 4 p.m. today on the proposed annexation that would take in 1,699 residents and 2,075 acres, mostly along N.C. 150 west.
The county is seeking legislation to impose a moratorium on all involuntary annexations until a review of state annexation laws is complete and the General Assembly has a chance to act on possible changes. Commissioners have also hired an Asheville law firm to mount a legal challenge to the annexation.
Louis D. Smith, the retired general manager of HBD Industries off South Main Street, gave commissioners a six-page report on the N.C. 150 annexation at the Monday meeting. Smith said he spent 30 years doing financial analysis of company reports and projects.
Smith contended the city has based its annexation report on serving just 38 families in the annexed area with water and sewer. If 90 percent of the families in the area sign up for water and sewer, Smith said, the cost of providing the water and sewer grid would be $36 million.
Anticipating the city would borrow the $36 million, Smith projected annual debt service payments at $2.6 million for 25 years. He contended that the city would have to use tax revenues to pay the costs, since revenues from the annexed area will barely pay for other city services.
Smith said he met with Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz and several members of the city staff and that they “didn’t quibble” with his figures.
“They didn’t dispute it,” Smith said, responding to a question from commissioners Chairman Arnold Chamberlain.
Smith quoted city officials as saying they will update their revenue and expense figures once they receive survey cards back from the proposed annexed area. The cards will show the level of interest in getting city water and sewer services.
Smith’s report included a suggested headline: “City residents to subsidize families in annexation area for 25 years.”
Smith pulled $500 from his pocket, held it aloft and promised to give it to any city or county official who can prove his calculations wrong.
Mayor Kluttz couldn’t be reached by telephone Monday night.
Commissioners opted to wait until their April 21 meeting to vote on whether to withdraw from the multi-county Centralina Council of Governments.
The county currently gives the agency around $40,000 a year.
Commissioners acknowledged they aren’t exactly sure what services the county gets for the money.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he had questioned Centralina staff at workshops. He said he was advised that Centralina will not become involved in an annexation or other issue when two municipalities are at odds.
But Sides said that view apparently doesn’t extend to a situation where the county and a municipality are at odds.
Chamberlain, Sides, Commissioner Tina Hall and Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell all indicated a willingness to pull out of Centralina.
Commissioner Jon Barber said if the county pulls out, it should be based on budget and services, not retribution for the agency’s role in the Salisbury annexation.
Barber said the county needed to keep its place at the regional table and not be “an odd duck” looking in from the porch.
“I don’t want to sit down at the table if I don’t like what is being served,” Mitchell responded.
The board agreed to seek additional information from Centralina on services and clarify the agency’s position prior to voting.
At the beginning of the meeting, three speakers weighed in against the proposed annexation.
Vance Meek, of 250 Hidden Hut Road, which is in the annexation area, thanked commissioners for their stance against forced annexation.
Rod Whedbee, a member of the Rowan Property Rights Alliance, questioned the proper role of city and county government in the lives of citizens. He raised issues about forced annexation and land-use plans.
Larry Wright, of 170 Heritage Lane ó also in the proposed annexation area ó thanked commissioners for their support. He noted that Sides joined anti-annexation demonstrators and downtown Saturday, even carrying a sign.
Wright repeatedly asked “Does Salisbury have a heart?” as he ticked off various issues, including the souring economy and the impending layoff of 1,500 employees at Freightliner.
Wright said his neighbors include a couple who both work at Freightliner and will lose their jobs in June and face double taxes if the annexation goes through.
Contact Jessie Burchette at 704-797-4254 or jburchette@salisburypost.com.

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