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School office site on county agenda

SALISBURY — A new Rowan County Board of Commissioners will hear from the public Monday about a planned downtown central office for the school system.
The board will hold a public hearing for the proposed Rowan-Salisbury Schools administrative office at 5 p.m. Monday on the second floor of the J. Newton Cohen Sr. Rowan County Administration Building.
The board’s meeting officially begins at 3 p.m., when new commissioners Mike Caskey and Craig Pierce will be sworn in. The board also will recognize retiring commissioners Carl Ford and Raymond Coltrain.
After selecting a chair and vice chair, the new Board of Commissioners will recess for a reception until 5 p.m., when the meeting will continue.
The Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education is asking commissioners to approve a $6 million loan for the construction of a $6.3 million building in downtown Salisbury.
The extra $334,000 would come from the school board’s capital outlay fund, which is funded by state sales taxes and reserved for building projects. The school board says it would receive $100,000 of that back in sales tax refunds for its tax-exempt purchases.
As a member of the Board of Education, Caskey has opposed the downtown location, saying the school system could build or buy a cheaper building elsewhere.
He said he doesn’t think the location of the office is the commissioners’ decision, but he may still vote against the current project once he joins the county board Monday.
“I’ve been opposed to this particular project since the beginning, and that’s not going to change because I’m on the commission,” he said. “My reasoning will be a little different.”
Caskey said he will look at how well the project meets the school system’s needs and its budget.
The nearly 49,000-square-foot building in the 300 block of South Main Street would house all administrative staff except those in the exceptional children’s department. That department would move from rented space at Corporate Square to the Ellis Street office, consolidating the school administration’s five office locations into just two.
“If you’re proposing a central office, it should be an office that you’re able to fit all of the administration into,” he said.
Commissioners and school administrators agree the aging building on Long Street, which is the largest of the current offices, is increasingly unsafe for the employees there. They also tend to agree on the convenience of a central office to faculty, staff, parents and visitors.
The conflict is all in the details.
The owner of the Salisbury Mall, Igal Namdar, said Tuesday he’d be willing to sell the 315,000-square-foot shopping center to the school system. He didn’t name his price for the property.
Caskey said he would be open to the idea of locating the central office in the struggling mall. “It’s up to the school board to decide where they want to put it,” Caskey said. “If that’s option they want to bring up, I’m in favor of looking into it.”
Officials with Downtown Salisbury Inc., the city of Salisbury and RowanWorks have said a downtown location would help the local economy by encouraging school employees to shop and eat at small businesses nearby.
Salisbury City Manager Doug Paris said locating the central office in the mall could actually drain money from the economy.
“This would remove $13.25 million from the tax base,” Paris said. “When you start removing large businesses out of tax base, you shift the tax burden to households.”
He said converting the mall to public property would be the equivalent of losing 1/3 of a penny on the tax rate. Every year, assuming the tax rates stay the same, the city would lose about $84,500 and the county would lose about $82,500.
But Pierce said both the property and sales tax revenue from the mall will disappear if it fails completely. Buying the mall could actually save it, he said.
Belk, the shopping center’s largest anchor, is expected to relocate to a new store at Julian Road next October. Big Lots will share space with Office Depot on East Innes Street, fueling speculation that it will close the mall store once the new location opens.
The Belk space alone would be able to accommodate the entire administrative office, Pierce said. That building could be upfitted to meet the school system’s needs, and nearby vacant stores could be used as offices for county departments like the Board of Elections that need more space.
“The other stores could continue to stay there and continue to produce revenue to offset the costs,” he said. “The tenants who want to stay there could benefit from the employees on-site.”
But commissioners have to look at the plan that’s on the table before considering other options, Pierce said.
“On Monday, after I’m sworn in and listen to the public comment and listen to the presentation that will be made, then I’ll form a consensus on what is best for the taxpayer and vote accordingly,” he said.
He agreed with Caskey that the downtown site doesn’t seem to fit the needs of the school system, because it doesn’t truly consolidate the central office.
Pierce also said the project is over budget, even after it was trimmed down from its original $7.1 million price tag.
“All of this money is tax dollars, and the commission agreed to let them have $6 million for a central office,” Pierce said. “They’ve already spent almost half a million dollars, and now they present a proposal that’s $6.3 million.”
School officials say they have spent more than $386,000 on services from Ramsay, Burgin, Smith Architects and environmental testing. The architecture firm’s total contract is for $464,000.
Also at Monday’s meeting, commissioners plan to:
n Consider a request from the Centralina Council of Governments for support of a public transportation grant application.
n Hear a presentation of the fiscal year 2012 comprehensive annual financial report by Martin Starnes & Associates.
n Discuss a possible annual planning work session for 2013.
n Select a voting delegate for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners Legislative Goals Conference.
n Add Wayside Drive Lane in Gold Hill Township to the state secondary road system for maintenance.
n Authorize the health department to submit a Healthy Beginnings Grant application for $75,000 to $100,000 over three years. The state funds would be used to support the county’s Health Link program.
n Approve personal and blanket bonds for Rowan County officials.
n Consider budget amendments and board appointments, including appointments to the board of public health, board of social services and planning board. Commissioners also will consider the reappointment of Commissioner Jon Barber to the rescue squad board.
n Meet in closed session about an economic development matter.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
Twitter: twitter.com/postcopolitics
Facebook: facebook.com/Karissa.SalisburyPost

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