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County in a tight spot?

West End Plaza is just beginning to cause problems for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. The county wants to get a loan to cover the purchase and some renovations, and pushback from the public is well underway.
To be clear, Rowan County is far from the only local government facing financial challenges. Moody’s recently downgraded the city of Salisbury’s bond rating because of Fibrant. Paying for the ambitious, $30 million fiber-to-the-home system has put a strain on city finances.
By comparison, the $3.245 million mall purchase is far less expensive. But the mall is front and center at this moment because a public hearing is coming up Monday regarding installment financing for the project. The county paid for the mall with a check, and now commissioners need to replenish the fund balance to avoid dipping below state guidelines, which could affect the county’s bond rating. They want an additional $500,000 to renovate spaces so county departments can start moving in. The plan is to borrow $3.95 million and pay it back over 10 years, at $500,000 a year.
The mall is also front and center because of last week’s primary. The only incumbent commissioner seeking re-election, Chairman Jim Sides, was handily defeated. And six out of seven people in the running for the board have signed a letter asking commissioners to hold off on the hearing and further work on the mall until after the November election.
It makes sense to hold off on renovations. The majority of the board is about to change, and the new board may not want to continue down the path of moving county offices to the mall. The county has other vacant buildings where it could put the Board of Elections and Veteran Services Office. Keeping a healthy fund balance is another issue, however. Unfortunately, commissioners appear to have put the county in the position of needing this loan.
It’s doubtful that Chairman Sides, to whom the letter was addressed, will call off the hearing. And no matter how many people voice opposition, commissioners will probably proceed with the loan. But let’s hope Commissioners Craig Pierce and Mike Caskey, whose terms are not up for election this year, listen to what people have to say. Rowan County is a diverse community with many opinions. Too often Chairman Sides reduces debates to “us” vs. “special interests” — that is, anyone who disagrees. Not everyone who opposes the mall purchase owns downtown property or wears a La Resistance beret. The more commissioners ignore that fact, the more trouble they will run into with the former Salisbury Mall.

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