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Sales tax could be local choice

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Rowan County may be able to keep the one cent sales tax the state plans to eliminate next month, possibly allowing the county to lower its own taxes.
The Rowan County Board of Commissioners agreed Monday to ask legislators for a local option for a referendum to keep the tax.
N.C. Reps. Fred Steen and Harry Warren have asked Commissioner Carl Ford, the board’s legislative liason to Raleigh, if Rowan wants the local option.
“They are offering this… because of revenue lost from lottery funds and revenue we continue to lose that the state has passed down in unfunded mandates,” Ford said. “We can back out of this between now and sometime in the middle of August when we’d decide whether to put it on the ballot.”
If the measure is approved by commissioners and then by voters in November, Rowan would begin collecting the tax in the middle of 2012.
The county could use the estimated $8.8 million in additional revenue to end its own quarter-cent sales tax, lower property taxes and help pay for new mandates.
“Everybody making a purchase would be paying the same as they are now — possibly less, and possibly even less in property taxes,” Ford said.
Commissioner Jim Sides said he loves the idea of reducing the property tax rate, but he thinks the state is likely to attach some strings to the money.
“They’re going to give us the option of putting it on the ballot and let the voters pass it, and then they’ll want to turn around and control where the funds go,” Sides said.
Chairman Chad Mitchell asked that the county’s resolution of support include a statement against state control over how the county spends the money.
“If they want to decide where the money goes, they can keep their one cent sales tax,” Mitchell said.
Commissioner Raymond Coltrain made the motion to approve the resolution.
“I think we need to take advantage of any opportunity the state provides to us to control our own destiny,” Coltrain said.
Ford seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.
Also at Monday’s meeting, the board approved a request for the sheriff’s office to apply for fiscal year 2011 COPS hiring program (CHP) funds to hire three middle school resource officers.
Due to budget cutbacks, the school system stopped funding middle school resource officers on June 30, 2009.
Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten said he talked to the police chiefs of the county’s towns, and none of them are seeking funding under this grant.
He said Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins is planning to use the funds to put an officer back at Knox Middle School.
“What I’d like to do is hire three back and share them between the six remaining middle schools,” Auten said. “As the county sheriff, I felt we should provide service to all six middle schools, not just the three that we serve as primary jurisdiction officers.”
The federal grant would cover the entry-level salaries and benefits for three years, but it would cost the county about $135,000 in the fourth year. Grant-funded positions must be kept for at least one year after the federal funding has ended.
Sides asked how the positions were funded before, and Auten replied that Rowan-Salisbury Schools paid five-sixths and the county paid one-sixth.
Sides said he’d like the county to have a conversation with the school system about splitting the cost of the fourth year in half.
In other business
Rowan County Commissioners also:
• Passed a resolution supporting the naming of the Interstate 85 Yadkin River Bridge as the Veterans Memorial Bridge, as proposed in N.C. House Bill 490.
• Scheduled a public hearing on June 6 for a land deal incentive to help bring a cold storage warehouse to Granite Quarry.
Cold Storage LLC would employ 40 to 70 people there and invest $10 million in the county.
The company has offered $15,000 per acre for 22 acres of a 114.3-acre property on Heilig Road, which is valued at about $17,000 per acre. Cold Storage also has requested a “right of first refusal” of 23 adjacent acres for future expansion.
• Authorized the board of elections to apply for a $5,000 state ADA grant, which does not require matching funds from the county, to ensure that the entrance to the one-stop voting site at the Rowan Public Library headquarters is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Approved the use of pyrotechnics for a July 4 fireworks display at Elks Lodge Campground on Long Ferry Road.
• Approved a few budget amendments.
• Proclaimed 2011 as a year of celebration of the centennial of public library service in Rowan County.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.

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