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Rowan County commissioner candidates talk future expenses

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a three-day series on a forum held Tuesday featuring candidates for Rowan County commissioner. For the first story, click here.

SALISBURY — With the primary election just 11 days away, six Republican candidates for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday discussed a topic that affects everything: money.

Candidates were questioned during a forum hosted by the Rowan County Tea Party Patriots. In attendance were incumbents Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman and challengers Michael Julian, Craig Pierce and Jim Sides.

On the sensitive topic of pocketbooks, the candidates faced questions about three potential drains on the county’s finances resources: Mid-Carolina Regional Airport, the former-Salisbury Cinema and West End Plaza.

The airport became a potential revenue source for the county after it was de-annexed by the city of Salisbury. It has grown steadily and remained at near-maximum capacity since.

But further growth could require millions of dollars in investment.

Candidates were asked if they would consider further expansion, with the thought of a low-cost airline such as Allegiant Air being a tenant.

For West End Plaza and Salisbury Cinema, questioners asked: What is the hold up? Why are these buildings sitting empty or near empty when they could be drawing revenue? What would the candidates do to fill the spaces if elected?

The following responses were given:

On expansion of Mid-Carolina Regional Airport 

Sides: “You’ve seen more growth out there in the last several years, and it started in our administration. It didn’t start in the current administration. We started building and we took over the airport and we made it where it’s one of the major small airports in the state. … I will continue to vote to develop that airport to its fullest potential.”

Klusman: “I think that we’ve got a really good start when you look at the new industries that have moved in there. … When you look at the return on investment, it’s our large hangars that we can work with corporate businesses on that are going to continue to make money for our county and our citizens.”

Greene: “It would cost somewhere between $10 to $20 million to expand the runway. … If we found the money, we certainly would expand it. Of course, bringing in a big airline or a small airline certainly would be an asset here but it would take millions and millions of dollars to get the airport up and ready for that.”

Edds: “We’ve struggled with extending the runway, … but now some things have changed. … We’ve added to the (Metropolitan Planning Organization) project list … what’s called an ‘airport parkway.’ With that, instead of just getting 500 feet on the north end for $24 million, we may be able to get a couple thousand feet on the other end for maybe $10 million. This is a great deal.”

Julian: “We have 50 race teams within 30 miles of this place, and they’re all looking for some place to park their airplanes. Rowan County would be a great place for it if we had a little bit longer runway and a little bit better facility. … As far as bringing a commercial airline in here, I don’t think that’s feasibly possible.”

Pierce: “If they want to spend the money to come here, great. … I’d be more than happy. But I don’t want to see the county get involved in spending their money to bring that aircraft here. I think if we get this runway extension that we’re talking about then the county has done their job to put our airport where it needs to be.”

On the former Salisbury Cinema and West End Plaza

Julian: “As far as the cinema is concerned, I don’t see any reason why whatsoever it is not been leased out. … The West End Plaza needs to be put to use. It was marketed that it was going to be a mixed-use facility of governmental agencies and private enterprise. … We need to move forward with the commitment.”

Pierce: “Commissioner (Mike) Caskey and I have … looked at that to offer it to the school system as an alternative school instead of the one on Henderson Street, which is 100 years old. We thought this would be a much better place. … It’s in very good shape; it just needs to some slight renovations done on the interior.”

Sides: “We can get rid of the mall, we can lose money on it, but I think we ought to develop it for its highest and best use. … The sheriff has needs, the jail system has needs, the court system has needs, probation has needs. All of those needs can be met if we’ll utilize what we have, and we have the mall.”

Klusman: “Would I love to see a theater there again for $2? You betcha. … To move (Social Services and Public Health) out there will be well over $15 million. So do we want to have a bond referendum and raise our taxes to do it right now? I don’t think so. We need to be able to grow and spend our dollars as they come in.”

Greene: “Nobody has come to us wanting to rent the theater. … I’m a person who believes that the county should not be in competition with private enterprise. I don’t think that we should have retail business out there. … It was bought for good long-term use bringing services in, and I think that’s what we need to use it for, whenever we have the money.”

Edds: “If we want to talk to the county manager about … marketing (the theater), I think that’s fine. As far as the mall itself goes, … it’s just an issue of priority. … We have water/sewer going in, … (which) will bring more tax revenue. … We’ve got to bolster that if we’re going to be able to afford to make these strategic moves to the mall.”

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