County seeks info on building for schools
By Steve Huffman
Rowan County commissioners on Monday instructed County Manager Gary Page to give them more concrete ideas on how a county building might be converted for use by the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
Discussion about offering the former Department of Social Services building on West Innes Street to the school system came at the commissioners’ monthly meeting.
“I think they just wanted to see on paper what I was going to talk with them about tonight,” Page said at the conclusion of the meeting.
He said he’d work on the plans, then present them to commissioners in January.
The building that commissioners have discussed offering the school system for use as a central office is at 1236 W. Innes St. The county is building and renovating space next to the Rowan County Health Department on East Innes Street to which Social Services will relocate next year.
Commissioners have met numerous times in recent years with representatives of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education concerning new school system offices. Early this year, school board members asked commissioners to help fund a new central office at a cost of about $7.5 million.
Discussion Monday centered around the school system moving its offices on Long Street in East Spencer to the site on West Innes Street.
If commissioners offer the West Innes Street site and the school board accepts, Daymark Recovery Services would need six months to find another location. The current plan is for Daymark to relocate from the Health Department site to make more space for Social Services.
County Attorney Jay Dees said Daymark is renting from the county on a month-to-month basis. That means the county isn’t committed to the business on a long-term basis.
“If there are votes to look in another direction, now would be the time for that to come up,” Page told commissioners Monday, referring to offering the DSS building to the school system.
He said that if commissioners were considering offering the former DSS building to the school system, he needed to contact officials with Daymark and make them aware of the possibility.
“I want to be up front with them,” Page said.
Several commissioners questioned Page on the matter, though the discussion wasn’t exceptionally long. Commissioner Chad Mitchell noted that if the Board of Education declined the offer, Daymark would stay in the former DSS building, leasing 19,500 square feet at a price of about $11,000 per month.
Mitchell pointed out that’s more than $100,000 a year in revenue for the county.
He also questioned if the former DSS building is large enough for the needs of the school system. Officials said the Long Street offices total more than 29,000 square feet while the West Innes Street site measures just 22,000 square feet.
Mitchell said he also wasn’t aware of any room in the former DSS building that would serve the needs of the school system as the auditorium at the Long Street site currently provides. School board meetings often draw crowds to the auditorium.
Mitchell said he was reluctant to give up rent from Daymark “for a building that might not meet (the school system’s) needs.”
Still, Commissioner Tina Hall said the county shouldn’t give up immediately on the possibility of the school system taking the former DSS building. She said one of the primary complaints from school officials has centered around a lack of safety at the Long Street site.
“We may have something to offer them that would help,” Hall said of the West Innes Street building. “We don’t know if we don’t offer this to them. Ultimately, it’s their decision.
In other matters handled Monday, commissioners:
– Unanimously re-elected Carl Ford as their chairman. Chad Mitchell was named vice chairman. Jon Barber, current vice chairman, said he didn’t wish to be reappointed. His term on the board expires in 2010 and he said he’s working on re-election.
– Honored outgoing Sheriff George Wilhelm who resigned effective Nov. 30. Ford noted that Wilhelm gave more than 25 years of service to law enforcement in Rowan County.
“We do appreciate it,” Ford said. “Let’s give him a hand.”
Asked if he wished to address the audience, Wilhelm said only, “I just appreciate the people of Rowan County. Thank you.”
Commissioners didn’t address the matter of naming a permanent replacement for Wilhelm. The matter wasn’t on the commissioners’ agenda.
Kevin Auten has been appointed interim sheriff. Page said a lack of action by commissioners apparently means the board is content to allow Auten to continue to serve at least until January.
Auten got a vote of support by a member of the Sheriff’s Office during a public comment session that preceded the meeting. Carl Dangerfield, a detective with the Sheriff’s Office, encouraged commissioners to appoint Auten on a permanent basis.
Dangerfield said Auten has the support of officers with the department.
“I encourage you to use common sense when you consider that appointment,” Dangerfield said.
– Approved a resolution levying an additional quarter-cent county sales tax. The tax was approved by voters in November with the money to be used for construction of a new jail and new emergency radio equipment.
Page said the new tax will likely take effect April 1 and said the county should start receiving proceeds by July 1.
Commissioners also approved by a 4-1 vote (with Raymond Coltrain casting the dissenting vote) a motion asking that the tax be rescinded in 10 years when the debts it was intended for are paid off.
Mitchell noted that the motion to rescind the tax won’t be binding, that it’ll take a vote of the county’s residents for it to be made official.
But Ford noted that the tax increase was promoted as a means of avoiding a property tax increase and said he felt future boards would honor the wishes of the current board by working to have it rescinded once the jail and radio equipment is paid for.
– Received a Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for fiscal year 2009 as presented by Shane Fox, a senior accountant with Martin Starnes & Associates. Fox praised the county’s finances, saying if he had to give its leaders a grade, it’d be A-plus.
Coltrain said board members had to make “some pretty tough” financial decisions this past January and May. “They turned out to be the right decisions,” Coltrain said.
Fox praised Page and Finance Director Leslie Heidrick for the “exceptional job” they’ve done concerning the county’s finances.
– Honored with a proclamation members of the Salisbury High School tennis team who recently won a state championship.