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‘Growth is coming; we just need to get out of the way’: Republican commissioner candidates look ahead

SALISBURY — In perhaps their last public dialogue before next week’s primary, Republican candidates for Rowan County commissioner faced off in a forum Tuesday evening.

The dialogue came at Catawba College. The Rowan County Chamber of Commerce, WSAT and the Salisbury Post sponsored the forum.

In attendance were incumbents Greg Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman as well as challengers Michael Julian, Craig Pierce and Jim Sides.

Michael Bitzer, a Catawba College professor of history and politics, was the evening’s moderator.

Bitzer posed questions submitted by Salisbury Post readers, and a theme of growth remained constant. Inquirers appeared to sense a coming change as the Old Beatty Ford Road interchange on Interstate 85 nears completion.

The change is growth, and voters wanted to know what the candidates would be willing to do to finance necessary preparations for a commercial and residential influx. And would they provide incentives to bring companies — and jobs — here?

A third question, posed by eighth-grader John Barnette, looked even further ahead.

“What do you want Rowan County to look like in 10 years from now, right after I’ve graduated from college?” he asked.

Candidates provided the following answers:

How do you propose to finance countywide water and sewer?

Julian: “The water and sewer project will have to turn a profit at Day 1 once it’s put in the ground. … We can borrow the money and finance it over a 40-year term because of the infrastructure needs. … In order to move this county forward and to bring in new industry, we have to have the infrastructure available.”

Klusman: “It is only by having industrial businesses that we can afford to put water and sewer in. You need big users. … We can’t just click our feet together and say I wish we could do this, because our Local Government Commission in Raleigh says you can only borrow up to this amount as a percentage of what your budget is. We can’t deplete our rainy-day fund for that.”

Pierce: “We could pay for it. It’s very simple. The math is there. We won’t even have to have a tax increase. All we’ve got to do is quit diverting moneys that are being wasted on special interest projects and put them toward infrastructure for our citizens. … We’ve got to take that big step, and we’ve got to quit telling everybody we can’t afford it.”

Sides:  “I think the county is wise to be proactive in the effort to provide these services, but they are expensive investments. The only way that I would ever vote to put it in, to borrow that kind of money, would be if we put it to a vote of the citizens. …  I believe that the incentives that the county ought to offer are the infrastructure, the water and sewer.”

Edds: “We did not go to the mat … to try to get Old Beatty Ford in there so that folks could just have a better shot out of the county. We did that because we wanted that to be an economic boom for this county, and it won’t happen without water and sewer. … We’ve got to come up with enough houses and industry and businesses that will pay for that, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Greene:  “We can do one of two things: We can go out and get loans on a long-term basis. We can raise your taxes, or we could have tax zones. But regardless of how this gets done, it has to be approved by the LGC, who controls our borrowing in the projects that are done here. It’s not an easy task, but we will get it done.”

Will you support incentives packages?

Klusman: “Economic development is key to the growth of this county, and I have already supported incentives. It’s a game I wish we didn’t have to play, but guess what? It’s not just local. It’s not the region. It’s not just the state. It’s the world, and that’s what we have to compete against.”

Pierce: “The answer is yes.”

Sides: “What kind of county do you want to see in 10 years? Do you want another 10,000 houses? Another 10,000 low-income residences? … Should you, the citizen, not be the one to make that choice, or do you want government to make it for you? With the changes along I-85, a long awaited growth will naturally come to Rowan County. … Growth is coming; we just need to get out of the way.”

Edds: “I don’t think there’s any one up here that loves incentives. … But it is that or we’re not in the game. . …  We’ve got to be flexible, and we’ve got to be competitive. There’s stuff that we’ve got to be better at. Until we’re the best at everything else we do, the incentives, unfortunately, are important for Rowan County.”

Greene: “If you want anything for your community, we have to be able to recruit. … Nobody likes incentives. But you sit here and wait? Do you really think that growth is natural? Start at Charlotte and come toward Rowan County. Where does the growth stop? It stops at the Cabarrus County line. Go past Rowan County, go to Davidson, start on up 85. Do you see growth up there? … No way is that a natural pattern.”

Julian: “If we bring water and sewer, we’re going to bring the industries that we need in order to put our citizens to work. I don’t like incentives … but it is the game that we have to play. … If we have to give them back 50 percent of what they pay us, we’re still 50 percent ahead of where we were before they came, plus we have the jobs and the people.”

What do you want Rowan County to look like 10 years from now?

Sides: “I’d like to see a lot of changes in Rowan County, but I don’t want to see such fast growth as what you’d see in Mooresville. … I’m in the minority when it comes to that. I want natural growth. I don’t want manipulated growth. I believe that we need to let the economy drive the growth for Rowan County, and I think that Interstate 85 is what’s going to bring that.”

Edds: “All across the country, kids are moving to urban areas. … We are the envy of so many communities that wish they had what we have. We spend most of our time denigrating our own selves. That’s not natural. It’s not healthy. … I want you to stay here with your parents because you find that there’s opportunity. That’s why folks are leaving: They’re looking for opportunity.”

Greene: “I hope that you graduate from one of the new schools that we get to build for you. I want you to see new companies that come to Rowan County, 21st-century jobs. … We want you to be as highly employed as possible. … I’m pushing to have a better Rowan County. We want great value for you to get you to stay in Rowan County.”

Julian: “I just hope that in 10 years, we’ve gotten past some of this bickering between races that we always seem to have. … We have a lot of the same ideals and the same wants and the same needs. It seems the difference is we all have different ideals on how we want to pay for it. We all need to come together.”

Klusman: “In 10 years, I hope to see Rowan County with a lot less poor people. We need to work really hard on reducing poverty here. We need to work really hard on helping the county become healthy. That means we need good-paying jobs with benefits that have health insurance.”

Pierce: “I hope … you’ll be proud to tell everybody, ‘Yes, I’m from Rowan County,’ and you’ll see just the benefit that you’ve had. You don’t realize how great a place this is until you leave it. But once you leave it for a little while. … I hope you have that experience, and I’m going to do everything I can to make that come true for you.”

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