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Commissioners approve floor plans for veteran services office and board of elections at West End Plaza

The county’s veteran services office and board of elections are coming to West End Plaza, soon.

Rowan County commissioners approved Monday two sets of floor plans for the offices in front of a new and unique audience.

Several attendees at the meeting were wearing red berets, signifying their membership with “la resistance,” a political action committee ardently opposed to the Tea Party as well as a tax that could come from commissioners’ purchase of the mall late last year.

Commissioner Jon Barber, who opposed the county buying the former Salisbury Mall, voted against approving the floor plans.

Rowan County Manager Gary Page said the county’s efforts have been focused on trying to keep as many businesses and leases growing at West End Plaza as possible.

Page has been working with Burl Brady Architects for about 30 days to develop the floor plans for the two future offices.

The former Kay Jewelers location at West End Plaza will be the new site for the county’s veteran services office, and space near the mall’s second entrance will be renovated to house the board of elections.

The veteran services office will be 1,611 square feet, and the board of elections will be 9,989 square feet — a considerable increase from about 3,000 square feet where elections officials work now in the county administration building on West Innes Street.

“There is way more space than for three or four employees,” Page said. “This won’t be like the office downstairs. This will be a place where all the board of elections and their activities are consolidated in one location.”

Page said county staff have been looking forward to a window between May and August when the renovations can take place.

“Elections can be in place in August, and then they can focus on the election in the fall,” Page said.

While talk has circulated about a potential 3-cent tax increase coming on the horizon as a result of the purchase of West End Plaza, Page said he foresees the only hike needed to pay the debt service on the mall is half of one cent.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Craig Pierce said the purchase of the mall and the subsequent relocation of county offices there was going to be a controversial issue when it first came up — and commissioners knew that.

“I applaud this board for having the backbone to go ahead and move forward with it and do what we needed to for the future of our county,” Pierce said.

Jim Sides, chairman of the board, said the board of elections was identified in a 2005-06 capital improvement plan as needing more room and a location that was convenient for the public to access.

“The board of elections now is going to be on one floor, the bottom floor, where handicapped access is available and it is all in one location,” Sides said. “That capital improvement was identified to cost somewhere around $1.1 million to $1.2 million. We’re not making that investment in a new building. We are taking an older building and repurposing it.”

The cost of renovating the space at the mall is “not going to be anywhere near $1.1 million,” Sides said.

“We don’t have the figures yet, but we are anticipating somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 or $150,000,” Sides said.

The current veteran services office is about the size of a closet, Sides said.

The new location at West End Plaza will provide adequate space to have multiple service officers on hand for veterans as well as a lounge, Sides said.

Commissioner Mike Caskey said he is ashamed of the office currently provided for veteran services.

“It’s small and cramped. As a county, I think we let the veterans down a little bit with that office,” Caskey said. “Having a nice place for them to come and be able to answer their questions and meet — I think it not only says that we care about the veterans but also that we are a county that is moving forward and trying to make a difference.”

The mall is a controversial issue, Caskey said, especially to people who live “closer to the city.”

“If Salisbury is our county seat and we want to have a presentable city here, we certainly don’t want a dilapidated mall in the middle,” Caskey said. “It may cost us a little bit, but in the long run with some of the things that are going to go out there, I think we’re going to save a lot of money.”

Contact reporter Jim Holt at 704-797-4246.

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