Republicans divided on issue of incentives

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
Jim Sides, the lone incumbent county commissioner running for re-election, drew some flak from fellow Republicans Tuesday night.
Several of the eight Republican candidates said the county shouldn’t use tax dollars to hire an attorney to fight Salisbury’s proposed annexation.
Sides didn’t give an inch on his avowed stand against incentives and his opposition to increased zoning and tax-funded efforts to preserve farmland.
Sides said it’s not the job of county commissioners to create jobs. Pointing to the 40 jobs promised at the planned Toyota Racing Development facility on Peach Orchard Road, Sides said none of those jobs will be filled by Rowan County residents. “Those job will be filled by outsiders. … We’ll get to mow the grass and clean the bathrooms.”
Donna Peeler, 60, a retired sales manager from Rockwell, said Toyota will use the services of local businesses and will impact the local economy.
Peeler, a longtime party activist, repeatedly stressed the need to add retail businesses and grow the sales tax coming into the county. She cited the loss of sales taxes as local residents go to Winston-Salem or Concord to shop.
Mike Miller of China Grove took issue with Sides’ contention that giving incentives is taking money out of the taxpayer’s pocket. Without the incentives, the businesses won’t come.
Miller said an aggressive economic development effort is the best way to keep the tax rate down.
Several of the candidates, including Peeler, said they would like to keep the rural nature of the county, preserving open space and farmland. Most suggested some type of public-private partnership.
Sides said the county’s farm tax deferment is one of the greatest preservation tools. He added that if a farmer has 200 or 300 acres he wants to sell to David Murdock for million-dollar houses, that’s the landowner’s choice.
Harry Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, talked about living in big cities where a piece of grass or a tree was a prized possession. “This land needs to be cherished,” said Rivera, 46, an employee of Freightliner.
Because of the large number of candidates, all candidates didn’t have the opportunity to respond to all questions.
On the question of annexation, four candidates ó Ken Deal, Carl Ford, Mike Miller and Patty Overcash ó all said they oppose forced annexation. But Deal, Miller and Overcash said they don’t think the county should spend tax dollars to take Salisbury to court.
“That’s not our dog, not our fight,” said Miller, who owns Miller-Davis, a Salisbury marketing business.
Ford, 50, a China Grove broadcaster, differed, saying county residents asked the Board of Commissioners for help.
The same group of four split on whether the county should try to keep school funding at the state average, currently $1,477, or aim higher.
Miller and Overcash, 48, a teacher assistant at Landis Elementary, said the county should strive to provide above-average funding.
Deal and Ford said they would work to maintain the state average. Deal noted the number increases each year. Ford said education isn’t purely about money. “If money was the answer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools would be turning out rocket scientists.”
Von Coolidge Poston, 56, who operates an antique store on Main Street in Salisbury, talked about the growth all around the area. “We’re sitting in the middle of a fortune. We’re in the middle of a black hole.”
Poston said incentives, better roads and better schools are needed.
Candidates got a final chance to make a pitch for support.
Sides promised to continue to work hard and speak up for those who have been overlooked. He drew laughter when he explained that his wife has never wanted him to run for office. Now she wants him to get re-elected.
Deal got in his slogan, “For the best deal, vote for Ken Deal.”
Michael Bitzer, assistant professor for political science and history, asked the questions submitted by readers of the Salisbury Post.
The forum was held in the Crystal-Peeler Lounge at Catwaba and sponsored by the college, the Rowan Chamber of Commerce and the Salisbury Post.