After no one shows up at public hearing, commissioners approve budget

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, June 7, 2016

By Josh Bergeron

SALISBURY — After no one showed up for a 5:30 p.m. public hearing on Monday, Rowan County commissioners unanimously passed a budget that projects expenditures topping $165 million.

The general fund budget doesn’t increase property taxes and keeps departments at similar funding levels to the current year. In the 2016-2017 fiscal year, Rowan County’s now-approved budget will also replace the roofs of two county buildings, buy body cameras for sheriff’s deputies, shift paramedics from 24-hour to 12-hour shifts, implement a plan that brings employees up to a pay average determined by a recently completed pay study and split a new sales tax on services such as car repairs between economic development and schools.

In total, Rowan County’s general fund budget — the largest and most important of the county’s six funds — projects $146 million in expenditures. It’s a 5 percent increase over the prior year.

On Monday — three weeks after the budget was introduced — Rowan County commissioners held a public hearing and work session on the budget. When no one showed up to speak during a public hearing on the budget, commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said it was either a sign that the community doesn’t care about government or that Rowan is satisfied with the current leadership.

Edds chose the latter as his preferred option.

Commissioners unanimously passed the budget a few minutes later. It was a change from an informal agreement made during a work session earlier in the day, when Edds and other county commissioners said they’d wait until June 20 to pass a budget.

Edds noted the lack of public interest when he recommended that commissioners pass a budget following Monday’s public hearing.

In addition to new expenditures planned by County Manager Aaron Church, commissioners added about a dozen changes to the recommended budget. The most notable changes included: giving Church and Assistant County Manager Leslie Heidrick a 1.5 percent pay raise, allocating $40,000 to help build a dog park in the city of Salisbury, and hiring a sheriff’s office investigator to specifically focus on drugs.

The dog park, proposed by Commissioner Craig Pierce, was the only item that generated significant discussion among commissioners. Commissioner Judy Klusman said the county shouldn’t try and build a new park when others are already trying to build one next to the Salisbury Civic Center. Pierce then asked commissioners to include it in 2016-2017 budget as a placeholder, and commissioners agreed.

Commissioners’ changes to Rowan County’s budget will result in more than $150,000 in new expenditures. County staff and commissioners alike said the new expenditures wouldn’t add notable costs to Rowan County’s budget.

When asked how Rowan County would pay for the additions, Edds noted that county departments never spend 100 percent of budgeted money. Pierce said the increase in expenditures was insignificant compared to the more than $165 million in planned spending across all of the county’s funds. Church said some of the new expenditures may come from the county’s fund balance — partially a savings account — but he would need more time to know for sure.

In a budget without a tax increase, county commissioners did not fund a 2 percent increase for teacher pay, a new south Rowan satellite office for the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office and capital outlay for the Rowan-Salisbury and Kannapolis school systems.

If Rowan County Commissioners had approved a budget that included all requests, the county would have needed to increase its tax rate to the 23rd-highest in North Carolina.

The 2016-2017 fiscal year starts on July 1 and ends on June 30, 2017.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.