Rowan citizens speak in support of emergency services, schools at budget hearing
By Jessie Burchette
A few days after Christmas, Jamie Kluttz was in a terrible wreck on Bringle Ferry Road.
Trapped in wreckage suspended several feet above ground, Kluttz was surrounded by total strangers who worked for two hours to free her.
Those strangers were members of the Rowan County Rescue Squad.
“I’m not sure I’d be here today” if not for those rescue workers, Kluttz said, speaking in support of emergency services during the county budget hearing Monday night. “I appreciate their efforts.”
A dozen supporters of the county’s emergency services, including the Rescue Squad and volunteer fire departments, called on the Rowan County Board of Commissioners to provide the money needed for operations.
An equal number of educators, parents and school officials called on commissioners to provide more dollars to hire seven additional technology facilitators for the Rowan-Salisbury School System. Several also supported more money to increase the annual local teacher supplement by $500.
Many of the school supporters also thanked commissioners for their commitment to keep schools at state average funding. For the coming year that’s $1,565 per student.
Dr. Jim Emerson, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, said the school system has offered a no-frills budget and stressed the need for increasing supplements to recruit and retain top-quality teachers.
Sara Brown, a teacher at Enochville Elementary, put the technology facilitator issue in terms everybody could understand.
The school shares a technology person with another school. When there’s glitch and no one can fix it, the class has to leave the lab. Everybody has to wait a day or so until the tech person arrives.
Several members of the school board and school system Superintendent Dr. Judy Grissom attended the hearing, but passed on an opportunity to speak.
J. Newton Cohen, who served as a county commissioner for 16 years, didn’t hesitate to take the podium and make the case for increasing the Franklin Fire Department tax by 1 cent.
“I’ve used their services six times in the last five years,” said Cohen, who has a history of heart-related problems. “No one appreciates them more than I do.”
In addition to Franklin, the Bostian Heights and Locke fire departments are seeking a 1-cent rate increase.
Supporters and members of the fire departments cited rising fuel costs, the need to add more paid staff to their largely volunteer rosters and the increasing costs of doing business while the call volume continues to increase.
“We’re not trying to gouge anybody,” said David Linker, president of the Locke Fire Department board of directors. “The volunteer fire service is a bargain.”
Bostian Heights Chief Mike Zimmerman said his department needs to add staff to comply with national fire standards that require as many firefighters to be outside a structure as inside.
With two paid full-time firefighters available to respond immediately to calls, Zimmerman said the department can’t send anyone into a building until at least one volunteer arrives.
Franklin Chief John Thomason said his department will lose revenue this year as a result of Salisbury’s annexation several years ago. The city’s annual payments of nearly $14,000 end this year.
Several others spoke in favor of the emergency services, including Major Tim Bost of the Rowan Sheriff’s Office; Coyt Karriker, chief of the Rowan Rescue Squad; and Frank Thomason, director of emergency services for the county.
Thomason called on commissioners to approve the 1 cent increase for all three departments.
Supporters of a few other agencies also spoke.
Carl Repsher, former director of Rowan Vocational Opportunities, asked for an increase in the county’s allocation of $50,000. The money is used to pay transportation costs for clients. Repsher said the county has not increased the allocation since 1986.
Michael Bates, a senior at North Rowan High School, called on commissioners to restore funding for the teen court program.
Bates said the program offers a “small glimmer of hope” for young people who otherwise would fall into the judicial system.
Commissioners earlier cut funding through the Juvenile Crime Prevention Council.