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Rowan County commissioners establish broadband task force

SALISBURY — The Rowan County commissioners on Monday formed a task force to explore the feasibility of expanding broadband service countywide.

Members include Randy Cress, the county information technology director; Chris Soliz, emergency services director; Candace Salmon-Hosey, chief technology officer with Rowan-Salisbury Schools; Cooperative Extension Director Amy-Lynn Albertson; and W. Lee Simmons and Bevin Fink, residents of underserved areas.

Commissioner Judy Klusman will also serve on the task force, developed to address a need in both the western and southeastern parts of the county for faster, more reliable internet service.

Cress said broadband access is vital for both businesses and residents in the area for social, economic and educational benefits.

“The point of this is to acknowledge we have both unserved and underserved areas in our community,” said commissioners Chairman Greg Edds during a February meeting before the group was formed.   “This would be for us to really drive a stake in the ground and say this is something that we’re going to focus on from a market perspective.”

Edds stressed that the group is not an indicator that the county is entering the broadband business.

It can’t: Cress said North Carolina law precludes the county from owning, operating or investing in broadband service to the public.

Through the task force, the county will instead work with established service providers to identify possible means of expansion. Alternatively, said Cress, the initiative could find answers for those in underserved areas.

“(B)ringing people to the table, setting it as an initiative does promote either expansion from current carriers or maybe an explanation to the citizens why incumbent carriers may just not be interested,” he said.

In other business from Monday’s meeting:

• The board approved a pending request to the governor’s office and Department of Commerce for five census tracts to be included in the Opportunity Zones Program.

The Opportunity Zones Program was created under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and is designed to provide tax incentives for private investment in identified and underserved low-income communities.

“What we’re trying to do is encourage investment in low-income communities,” said Edds. “This is planning for economic development and giving a nod to those in need in our community.”

• The board approved a request to establish the Griffith-Sowers House as a Rowan County historic landmark.

Located at 5050 Statesville Blvd., the Griffith-Sowers House was designed for James Francis Griffith and his wife in 1930 by English-born Salisbury engineer Percy Bloxam. The Griffiths suffered financial reverses before its completion, and the property was sold at auction and completed by Jesse Lewis Sowers.

• The board approved the county’s 2018-19 application for HOME funding.

HOME is a federal block grant program designed to create affordable housing for low-income households. This year, Rowan County expects to receive $147,366 in funds to rehabilitate at least four owner-occupied homes. The request requires a 25 percent matching cash contribution of about $36,842 from the county.

• The commissioners approved two separate conditional-use permits.

One permit allows for the construction of a 165-foot, monopole cell tower for Verizon Wireless at 280 Rimer Road to improve coverage and capacity in the Mount Hope Church Road area, southwest of Faith.

Conditions for the development include that noise levels for any on-site emergency backup generator not exceed a noise level of 65 decibels.

The second permit is for a new race shop and parts sales store at Lot 7 in Mooresville Motorsports Center, located at 208 Performance Road. Conditions include that vehicle parts must be kept inside the building and no junk vehicles may be kept outside.

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