County OKs tobacco ban

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 8, 2011

By Karissa Minn
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved a ban Monday on the use of tobacco products on the campuses of the county health and social services departments.
“We think the Health Department and the Department of Social Services should be a leader in helping to abolish the use of tobacco products in our community,” said County Health Director Leonard Wood.
Commissioner Chad Mitchell, board chair, asked how the ordinance would be enforced.
“It appears from the ordinance itself that the public is only requested not to smoke there,” Mitchell said. He added that the departments already have problems with people breaking the previous rule, which banned smoking within 50 feet of building entrances.
Wood said staff will work to educate the public on the new rule, and a security officer will help make sure they abide by it.
Commissioner Carl Ford said the ordinance doesn’t go into effect until July 1, so there is time for education efforts and smoking cessation programs.
In other news, Commissioner Jon Barber shared two ideas Monday he says could help the county as it considers cutting funding for services and raising the tax rate.
“The citizens of Rowan County are being squeezed and squeezed by taxes,” Barber said.
One idea is starting a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) program in which nonprofit agencies would make voluntary or negotiated contributions to the county, in order to help pay for services and buildings they use while exempt from property taxes.
Total fees would range from 10 percent to 65 percent of the normal tax base, depending on the type of exemption and probability of profit. They would include a fee for fire protection if the exempt property includes buildings, as well as fees for emergency services and storm water management.
County documents show that in 2006, the value of all excluded and exempt property in the county totaled $1.3 billion. By the end of 2010, that total was $1.9 billion — a 46 percent increase over four years. At the same time, the county’s commercial and residential base has decreased.
“I don’t know what else in our tax base is expanding at a rate of 12 percent per year,” Barber said. “As this continues, the little guys continue to pay more and more taxes to subsidize these particular entities.”
After the meeting, Mitchell said he thinks the PILOT program would be great, but he doesn’t know how it would work.
“Why would an entity voluntarily agree to pay for a service that it is currently receiving for free?” he said.
Barber also proposed a resolution asking the General Assembly to expand the scope of Senate Bill 87, “Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition,” to address government competition in the real estate business.
The resolution requests added language requiring all government-owned buildings that are leased or rented to have a triple net lease or rental agreement. This would require the lessee to pay taxes, insurance and maintenance in addition to rent.
During discussion, Barber asked that all county surplus property be listed online.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he is in favor of that idea, but not all properties that are rented should be sold.
“Sometimes there’s a situation where we keep piece of property that three years from now, we know we’re going to need,” Sides said. “Instead of letting it sit empty, we lease it out and utilize the building when we have a need for it.”
Barber said he wanted to talk to commissioners individually about both topics, and no action was taken.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain also brought up ideas he wants the county to explore. He and the other commissioners asked county staff to research ways to enhance employee retention and help the assessor’s office collect more delinquent taxes.
The board also instructed planning staff to look into creating a growth development plan for the area east of Interstate 85 from an existing plan for western Rowan County.
Coltrain said the development of an interchange at Old Beatty Ford Road could depend on the existence of that plan.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, the board delayed consideration of a new building permit fee schedule and a declaration of official intent to reimburse expenditures for the Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Bond. Commissioners said they are waiting for more information on both items.

In other business
Rowan County Commissioners also:
• Rejected a request from PGT Industries for expansion assistance for the year 2010 because the county’s requirements were not met. In December, the company announced plans to close its Salisbury plant.
The incentive grant would have totaled about $60,000, or 75 percent of county taxes paid last year.
• Approved a resolution opposing the loss of county school construction dollars and the shift of state school funding responsibilities to counties.
• Approved a resolution opposing the transfer of the secondary road program to counties.
• Awarded a service sidearm to retiring Master Deputy Kevin McDaniel.
• Approved a request from HS&E Inc. for an extension to its 2006 temporary use permit for continued remediation of a 2002 petroleum release at the former Craven’s Exxon station, located at 7565 Bringle Ferry Road.
• Instructed the zoning board of adjustment to either grant or deny a variance request from Blandy Hardwoods.
• Heard an update on the first year’s service of the interim South Rowan peak time ambulance.
Commissioners later will discuss whether to continue the existing agreement with the Rowan County Rescue Squad to provide the service and establish a formal contract, provide a similar peak time service using added county EMS resources or provide an additional 24-hour ambulance unite to the county EMS division.
• Approved a resolution to renew the county’s participation in the Cabarrus/Iredell/Rowan HOME Consortium.
• Approved a second reading of amendments to the farmland preservation ordinance.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.