County commissioners, school board to meet together Thursday

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 6, 2013

SALISBURY —County commissioners and school board members will meet jointly Thursday to talk about relationship expectations and common issues.
The joint meeting will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in the multi-purpose room of Hood Theological Seminary, 1810 Lutheran Synod Drive in Salisbury.
According to the meeting agenda, the Rowan County Board of Commissioners and the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education each will share a statement of relationship expectations, collectively and/or individually. They also plan to agree on their relationship expectations and/or strategies for how to achieve them.
Finally, the boards will hold a discussion about common issues.
The largest issue looming over both elected bodies is a consolidated central administrative office for the Rowan-Salisbury School System.
The school system wants to consolidate its five admiistrative offices into one central location. Staff members have raised several safety concerns about the largest of them, an aging building on Long Street in East Spencer.
On Monday, county commissioners voted 3-2 against financing a $6 million, 49,000-square-foot building. They cited concerns about contamination at the downtown site, located in the 300 block of South Main Street in Salisbury.
To address safety worries at the Long Street building, the county offered two former Department of Social Services buildings as temporary offices.
Chairman Jim Sides, Vice Chairman Craig Pierce and Commissioner Mike Caskey all agreed to reject the plan, while commissioners Jon Barber and Chad Mitchell voted to support it.
Salisbury City Council then voted unanimously Tuesday to consider borrowing $8 million on behalf of the school system. That amount would pay for the schools’ original, larger proposal.
The city of Salisbury has offered to donate land and a parking lot for the central office. While clearing the site, which used to contain a fuel station, the city removed seven underground fuel tanks and 3,500 tons of contaminated soil. It’s not clear how much soil in total will have to be removed.
Officials haven’t yet determined if there is groundwater contamination, and if there is, whether the state would mandate the city to clean it up. Answers to those questions are expected to come in the next month.
City Manager Doug Paris has said the city will continue cleanup regardless of whether the schools’ central office is located there.
The school board originally asked the county, at a January 2012 commissioners’ meeting, to borrow $7 million on its behalf for a 62,000-square-foot building.
The school board cannot borrow money directly, so it proposed to repay the county from its capital outlay fund, which is funded by state sales taxes and reserved for building projects.
County commissioners agreed to $6 million and asked school officials to come back and present a final plan before the county pursues financing.
The school system scaled down its plans, leaving out space for its exceptional children’s department, and pared them down yet again after initial bids came in too high.
Officials then came back before the county board with a $6.3 million proposal for a 49,000-square-foot building. The school board did not ask the county to finance any costs over $6 million.
But some commissioners said the new proposal was too small to provide a truly consolidated office. They voted to delay consideration of the issue for 60 days, so that newly elected members of the county and school boards could consider the issue.
After that 60 days ended, commissioners voted against the proposal.
If the path to Thursday’s meeting is any indication, the two boards will have plenty of ground to cover when talking about their relationship.
Richard Miller, chairman of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education, first called for a joint meeting of the two boards on Jan. 3.
Sides had said he wanted to meet jointly with the school boards. But he did not agree to Miller’s meeting, he said, because the city of Salisbury had been invited as a stakeholder.
Sides and Miller then called a meeting with the vice chairmen of both boards. But Miller would not meet without the press in attendance, and Sides would not start discussions with the press there.
Finally, Miller and Sides met privately and agreed to set a public meeting between the two boards on neutral ground.

Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.