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Rowan Commissioners reach stalemate on budget

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY — Rowan County Commissioners have reached a stalemate on the fiscal year 2012-13 budget.
At Monday’s meeting, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners unanimously passed all funds except the general fund, which includes most of the county’s spending and revenues.
Chairman Chad Mitchell’s motion for approval died when nobody was willing to second it. Commissioners tried to negotiate a compromise Monday night, but they decided they needed more time.
“As long as I’ve been on the board, this is my sixth budget, and we’ve never been at this point,” said Commissioner Jon Barber.
Leslie Heidrick, the county’s finance director, said this is the first time she recalls in 14 years that commissioners tried to pass a budget and couldn’t.
The board will meet again next Monday, June 25, at 8:30 a.m. They have until midnight June 30 to pass a spending plan for the coming year.
Earlier in the meeting Monday, commissioners held separate votes on each point of contention.
Ronnie Bryant, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Regional Partnership, came to the meeting to encourage Rowan County to rejoin the partnership.
The county voted to withdraw last year in protest of a $64,000 bonus given to its chief executive. Mitchell questioned Bryant and other officials Monday, saying he’s still concerned about it.
The board decided to stay out of the partnership and remove the next year’s $40,000 dues from the budget – unless the partnership says the county doesn’t have to pay the past year’s dues.
Barber and Commissioner Raymond Coltrain dissented in Monday’s 3-2 split vote, but neither said it was a budget deal breaker.
Sticking points
Barber and Coltrain say the budget doesn’t go far enough to reward county employees. A majority of the board approved a graduated pay raise of 1 to 2.5 percent, depending on years of service. Those with less than three years of service wouldn’t get a raise.
Barber proposed a similar graduated pay raise of 2 to 3 percent.
Coltrain also objected to the majority vote to cut rescue squad funding from $400,000 to $350,000. The allocation would drop even lower, to $300,000, if the squad does not change its bylaws according to Commissioner Jim Sides’ recommendations.
Sides said the rescue squad board should be the decision-making authority in the agency, and it should appoint the chief and its own chairman. Right now, the squad appoints the board, the chief and the chairman.
Coltrain said the county should encourage the changes, not try to force them.
Barber and Vice Chairman Carl Ford also said they want to cut property taxes by a quarter cent, but nobody else agreed.
The county manager’s proposed budget, which totaled about $128 million without the board’s changes, would keep the tax rate at 62.25 cents per $100 valuation.
Ford and Sides don’t agree with the majority’s decision to keep school funding at the same amount and possibly use it to reinstate teacher supply money. County Manager Gary Page had recommended cutting total funding by $481,000, to keep per pupil spending the same.
Ford and Sides said they’d rather use that money to fund an EMS ambulance station in western Rowan County.
Coltrain said the town of Cleveland and the Cleveland Fire Department might be able to help with that if the county waits a bit.
Sides offered to table the rescue squad cut for later, if commissioners would vote to follow the county manager’s recommendation for the schools.
“And that’s something I’m not willing to do tonight,” Mitchell said.
Decisions reached
Commissioners did agree unanimously to Mitchell’s suggestion of adding a maximum of $32,000 in the budget for paperless agenda software.
The board also unanimously agreed to give RowanWorks Economic Development a requested $13,212 increase, plus its Charlotte Regional Partnership dues if it withdraws from that group.
They voted 3-2 to keep funding for the Rowan County Chamber of Commerce at $2,500, rejecting a requested increase that was partially recommended by the county manager. Barber and Coltrain dissented.
Two fire district tax increases, requested by Ellis and Locke fire departments, were approved.
Ellis Cross Country Fire District will go up from 5.2 cents to 6.5 cents, and Locke Township Fire District will go up from 5.33 cents to 6.5 cents. Public hearings were previously held for both.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/ Karissa.SalisburyPost

In other action
Rowan County Commissioners also:

• Modified an existing incentive agreement with Henkel Corp. for an additional expansion project. The new project, when added to the current expansion, is projected to bring the company’s total investment from $25 million to $28 million, and the total number of new jobs created by June 30, 2013, from 103 to 108.
• Approved proposed fire district boundary changes, in order to correct discrepancies in the boundaries that were found when the county began measuring them more accurately with GIS.
• Delayed discussion of  a $500,000 offer from the Rowan County Fair Association to buy 30 acres of the county fairgrounds property. Commissioners said they wanted more time to consider it.
• Delayed the appointment of a tax administrator, after meeting in closed session, due to ongoing negotiations.
• Approved a rezoning and conditional use permit amendment for Blandy Hardwoods.
The business, located at 735 Gin Road in Gold Hill, asked to modify the south setback line to allow for a dry kiln, two additional warehouse structures and four sheds.
• Approved the name of Wilcoy Park Drive for an unnamed road that runs northwest off the 300 block of Wilcoy Road.
• Approved the name of Average Drive for an unnamed road that runs northwest off the 200 block of Wilcoy Road.
• Renewed the Limited FBO Agreement of Alpha Ones Air Service LLC, a flight school at the Rowan County Airport.
• Approved a lease agreement for purchase of a property at 1205 Rowan Mill Road as part of the county’s land acquisition for a runway protection zone at the Rowan County Airport. The county will buy the property, along with two others, with federal grant funds and allow the owner to live there as a tenant until the land is needed.
• Approved the Home Community Care Block Grant funding plan for fiscal year 2012-13.
• Approved the use of pyrotechnics for a fireworks display at Tamarac Marina on July 14.
• Accepted a state grant of $7,650 for environmental management for the improvement of the county’s pesticide container recycling program.
• Approved several budget amendments.

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