Council debates increased funding for economic development
By Josh Bergeron
SALISBURY — City Council members aren’t all on board with boosting funding for the area’s economic development agency.
Councilman Kenny Hardin says he is opposed to raising the city’s contribution from roughly $89,000 to $114,000 because he feels there have been no significant economic announcements in Salisbury recently. There was no formal vote on the matter at Tuesday’s council meeting, but Hardin appeared to be the lone council member opposed to boosting economic development funding.
An official decision will come when the City Council approves its 2017-18 budget later this year. If approved, Salisbury’s contribution would be added to others from Rowan County government, local municipalities and companies.
When RowanWorks Economic Development interim Director Scott Shelton presented the request Wednesday, his agency received immediate criticism from Hardin.
“I feel like we are kind of dazzled with smoke and mirrors,” Hardin said.
Hardin said he didn’t feel as if the presentation had any “dazzling” examples of economic development.
Shelton’s presentation had 11 examples of recent “success stories” that RowanWorks helped make happen. Some were existing businesses that expanded. Others were companies for which development has been approved but not completed. Collectively, they represented $30 million of private investment. Examples include Morgan Ridge RailWalk Brewery and Eatery, Makson Inc., Amrep, Filltech and Strategic Moves.
Shelton expressed optimism about economic development potential. He said Rowan County is receiving more interest from prospective companies than at any period he can remember. He joined RowanWorks in 2009.
Hardin said the economic progress made in 2016 and 2017 does not warrant the requested $25,000 increase. The three other council members in attendance — Councilmen Brian Miller and David Post and Mayor Karen Alexander — disagreed with Hardin.
Post said tax revenue generated by new businesses is many times greater than the amount of money Salisbury contributes through its annual budget. He said the city has contributed roughly $1 million to RowanWorks Economic Development in the previous 15 years. Over the same period, he said, the city has received $12 million in tax revenue from RowanWorks efforts.
“That’s a pretty good return,” Post said. “That’s pretty easy to see on a chart. You put in a dollar, you get back $12. We’ll do that all day long.”
Even if economic development projects go to other locations in Rowan County, Post said, Salisbury would see some tangible benefit. That may include workers who live or shop in the city, he said.
Alexander said she would “certainly support” an investment of $25,000 when the city has received $15 million in tax revenue from economic development projects in recent years.
Hardin fired off questions to Shelton. Council members, at times, interjected with an answer before Shelton could respond.
“I will say without a doubt we’re getting our money’s worth,” Miller said.
Despite Post’s math, Hardin later said he does not see the correlation between an additional $25,000 and improved economic development.
“If it’s a great investment, show me,” Hardin said.
Hardin also questioned the salary set for the incoming permanent economic development director, who has not been publicly named. The salary amount was not included in Shelton’s presentation but reportedly is higher than the pay for City Manager Lane Bailey and Rowan County Manager Aaron Church. Church’s salary is $139,500 per year.
Post fired back by saying RowanWorks needs to pay the market rate to get the most qualified director.
“If we don’t want to compete and let the chips fall where they may, then that would be a policy decision and I would go the other way,” Post said. “I think we have to pay for it, and I think we have to get the best we can.”
The City Council ended Tuesday’s discussion without a vote. Budget decisions will likely come in June. The 2017-18 budget year starts July 1.
Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.
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