Editorial: Prosperity on rebound in Rowan

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 22, 2016

It’s welcome news that Rowan County tax revenues are up by about $6 million without an increase in the property tax. Citizens should take a look at how the county might spend that $6 million.

County commissioners got their first look last week at the county manager’s proposed 2016-17 budget, which totals $145.7 million. For once county officials are not singing the blues about scarce funds. Taxpayers might not be quite as happy, since part of the increase came from a new state tax on services, such as car repairs. But it’s good to hear public officials say they have sufficient funds for a new roof for the jail/courthouse complex and innovations like new body cameras for deputies.

Commissioner Craig Pierce said he wants to ensure the school system receives the largest possible amount of additional sales tax revenue, to be spent wisely. That raises an interesting point. When the General Assembly expanded the sales tax, lawmakers stipulated that the revenue be spent on economic development and/or education, two programs pivotal to a community’s future. Rowan’s proposed budget divides its $2 million sales tax boost in half, with the education portion divided among the community college, Rowan and Kannapolis schools and charter schools. So $1 million of the new money goes toward unspecified economic development projects — separate from the $413,000 allocated to RowanWorks — while $927,600 goes to a school system with more than 19,000 students.

All told, Rowan’s public school system would get nearly $43 million through the county in the coming year, a huge chunk of the budget, so the schools are hardly being slighted. Whether the division of the new sales tax proceeds is wise, though, will depend on where the economic development money goes. Someone needs to elaborate on that.

The average N.C. county property tax rate is 66 cents per $100 valuation. Rowan’s 66.25-cent rate puts it near the middle of the pack, ranking 54th. Scotland County has the highest rate, $1.03,  and Jackson County as the lowest, 28 cents.

In Rowan, that tax will be levied in 2016-17 on a tax base of nearly $12 billion, up 2.3 percent over the previous year. That’s where the county really needs to see growth, with new buildings and businesses boosting the tax base and sparing property owners a future tax increase. For now, modest growth and state tax changes are giving the county a feeling of prosperity — room to breathe. Let’s be sure to invest that money in wise improvements.