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In Rowan County commissioners campaign, candidates talk change

Note: This is the final part of a three-day series on a forum held Tuesday featuring candidates for Rowan County commissioner.

SALISBURY — As a Rowan Tea Party-hosted candidates forum drew to a close Tuesday, six Republican candidates for Rowan County commissioner discussed the possibility of change.

Will the coming November election keep the county on its current path? Or will the county change direction under new leadership, perhaps even regress?

Incumbents Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman all pushed to keep the same trajectory, one they said is moving the county onward and upward.

“Rowan County’s annual retail sales have increased by $82 million a year since 2014. We’ve reduced retail leakage — that’s the amount of money that goes outside of the county — from $172 million four years ago to $137 million,”  said Edds, the Board of Commissioners’ current chairman. “Now, you want to go away from this? I don’t think so.”

Vice Chairman Greene commented further.

“We have done a lot of things. We’ve financed the school. … We added $400 million to the tax base. The average income of people in the county has improved,” he said. “Folks are talking to each other again, from one municipality to another. … There’s been a lot of tremendous growth.”

Klusman said the changes are more than just numbers: They were a sign of teamwork and partnership.

The current commission, she said, makes a “darn good team.”

“I hope that you would agree that we are going in the right direction, that we have built positive relationships,” Klusman said. “We have finally gotten Rowan County turned around to where people and businesses are looking at us and want to come here.”

Craig Pierce, who was elected to the board in 2014 and has two years left in his current term, had a different opinion.

“They talk about 400 million more dollars on the tax books. That’s because we had a re-eval. That’s because we raised your taxes,” Pierce said. “That’s not anything we did to grow this economy locally. It’s because of what’s going on in Raleigh and what’s gone on in Washington.”

Pierce also addressed a vocalized concern that a vote for him would send the county backward. The reality is quite the contrary, he said.

“I’ve always moved forward even though it’s controversial,” he said. “I’m not afraid to take the bullets.”

Pierce indicated that the previous three and a half years have been anything but a partnership. He said that items he wanted on the agenda were rarely added nor passed, “because it’s not their idea.”

“If that’s what you want as positive leadership, then lead me down the coal mine and set the dynamite off, because that’s where we’re going to end up,” he said.

Challenger Jim Sides, who served three nonconsecutive terms on the board previously, borrowed slightly from Pierce’s observations. He is not going to take the credit for anything President Donald Trump has done, he said.

But, he said, he would vote in favor of one specific change in light of recent community growth: tax cuts.

“In the last three years, sales tax has gone up. Property values have gone up, so the property taxes have gone up a little over $13 million. I’m thinking that it’s time that we cut taxes,” said Sides. “… I’ve never voted for a tax increase, and I’ll vote for a tax cut.”

Challenger Michael Julian offered another option: “not necessarily a new direction, but possibly the right direction,” he said.

He said he is not back as a puppet of Sides, as a recent opinion column in the newspaper insinuated. How could he be back, he said, having never been on the commission before?

Julian said he would bring not only new blood to the board but new ideas as well.

“I have two daughters. … They tell me all the time that they don’t know that they want to come back to Rowan County because there’s nothing here to suit them,” he said. “I want to change that. I want all of our young people to be able to come back here and live a prosperous life and be able to do well with themselves.”

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