School chair shares information about lottery, property contamination

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 16, 2013

During a Monday work session, the chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education shared responses to questions he recently asked about lottery proceeds and contaminated soil on county property.
The inquiries made by Dr. Richard Miller about a week ago went to Gary Page, county manager.
Miller requested copies of any agreements regarding the designation of county lottery funds, meeting minutes in which commissioners took action on the use of the lottery funds and information about action taken by the county to fund the 2002 school bond from local property tax revenue.
“I found no agreements between the Rowan-Salisbury School System and the Rowan County Board of Commissioners regarding the use of lottery funds,” Page wrote to Miller in a letter he gave him last Thursday.
In his email request, Miller said the 2002 bond campaign outlined a 6.5-cent property tax increase to fund the bond, and he asked how much had been levied.
“Only 2.5 cents has been levied since 2002,” Miller said Monday.
Page wrote commissioners were scheduled to raise the property tax by at least 3 cents in 2005 to repay the bonds, but opted to use lottery funds instead.
Former Gov. Bev Perdue withheld lottery funds in 2010 to balance the state budget, cutting lottery revenue to Rowan County by $1 million, Page wrote.
“Over the past three years, Rowan County government has had to replace those funds in order to not default on the debt service payments,” he wrote. Page said the school system has not offered to assist with the loss of that $3 million.
“Since the county is the official borrower owner, these lost funds were secured by cutting other valuable public services, employee furloughs, reduction in force, reduced health insurance benefits and no employee pay raises for four years,” he wrote. “The recent recession contributed much to these cuts, the governor’s raiding lottery funds simply compounded the problem.”
Miller said the school system has done the same, reducing its budget by $24 million during the past four years by cutting 200 positions and scaling back services.
“That’s been across the board as we try to balance budgets,” he said.
Next, Miller brought up site preparation at county-owned property.
“There’s been so much discussion about movement of dirt on different sides, about bringing bad dirt out and good dirt in,” he said. “Moving dirt, is moving dirt, is moving dirt.”
In his correspondence, Page said the county spent $250,000 removing one foot of “unsuitable” soil and bringing in new soil in 2010 to prepare for the construction of the satellite jail facility on Grace Church Road.
“I don’t remember a big hoopla back in 2010 about moving dirt,” Miller said.
The city of Salisbury is currently in the process of removing contaminated soil at the proposed site of the school central office at the corner of Horah and South Main streets.
City Council members have agreed to pick up the $25,000 deductible cost for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to clean the lot. City Manager Doug Paris said last month that the total cost is expected to be “multiple six figures.”
Miller said such cleanups are not unusual.
“We as a culture have polluted our environment,” Miller said. “We have to clean it up. That’s a normal operation.”
Miller brought up an example of contamination at a house at Sloan Park that occurred as the result of a leaking residential heating oil tank on county property.
Page wrote the county spent $106,607 on soil remediation at the house.
“Again, I don’t remember any hoopla or concern,” Miller said.
School board member Chuck Hughes asked Miller why he was discussing county projects.
“I’m not sure what purpose it serves to make a comparison to what happened elsewhere in the county,” Hughes said.
Miller said opponents of the central office project have used the contamination as a reason not to build downtown.
“I wanted to know for my own education what has been the normal operating procedure with the county in dealing with contaminated sites,” he said. “For better or worse.”

Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.