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Voters say education investment, safety key issues for 2020 commissioners race

SALISBURY — With the Rowan County Board of Commissioners Republican primary less than a month away, local voters seem to agree that big issues for the three candidates include investment in education, safety concerns following a shooting at Thelma’s Down Home Cooking and a $45 million bond referendum set to appear on the ballot.

With two seats on the board up for grabs, former mayor of China Grove Lee Withers is challenging incumbents Craig Pierce and Mike Caskey, who have both served on the board since 2012. Early voting begins next week, and Election Day is on March 3.

Jerry Jackson Jr., a 22-year-old who attended a Tuesday commissioners candidate forum, said he was undecided on where he stands on a $45 million bond referendum for a technology education complex at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College. Jackson said that while he agreed the bond is worth supporting for the education investment, the concern lies in raising taxes to pay debt associated with the measure

Additionally, Bob Bish, a Spencer resident who serves on the town’s board of aldermen, said he is unsure about the measure and doesn’t feel he knows enough about the bond to make a decision for or against it. Bish said he intends to allow public comment about the matter from Spencer residents sometime before the election, perhaps at the next council meeting.

However, Diane Goodnight, who attended the forum, said she agrees with the need for the bond referendum.

Elaine Hewitt, who has been active with the local Republican party for nearly a decade, said she the bond and feels it has a good chance of passing. She added that she is impressed with the current board of commissioners’ efforts in education and feels that it has made the county a “more desirable place for business.”

Jackson said he enjoyed hearing what Withers said about the role and influence the board can have in evaluating decisions like shutting down schools in areas that communities are built around.

“When we land a large economic development project in the county, sometimes we may not think what that does to that small town that’s beside it,” Withers said at the forum.

Jackson also said he liked what Pierce said regarding safety at West End Plaza following the shooting at Thelma’s. Pierce called the incident a “one-time thing” and cautioned against drastic action since the area has recently gained a good reputation.

Hewitt agreed with Pierce and the board’s handling of the Thelma’s shooting in that it’s “sad for Thelma” but closing the business is “what needs to happen.”

Bish, however, said he wonders if the incident has become too public and is eager to hear Thelma’s side of the incident.

Giovanni Vincent Spillman, a doctorate student at Liberty University and social media coordinator for the Rowan County Republican Party, expressed frustration with not seeing the mall at West End Plaza being used to its full potential. Though he knows it’s a “complicated situation,” he said the county should “use what they have and stop having it sit there to waste.”

Spillman said it’s important for the county to provide more opportunities for young people if it wants to retain them and their talents. All three candidates agreed at the forum that this was an important issue for the county, and Pierce suggested implementing training programs in high schools to better prepare students for their futures.

While candidates agreed at the forum that having more jobs than the people available to do them is a “good problem to have,” Bish cited it as a concern, adding that the county needed a more skilled workforce.

Since all three candidates have similar views and ideas to move the county forward, some locals may have a harder time deciding which two candidates to elect to the board.

Hewitt said she appreciates the progress the board has made over the last few years. In particular, Hewitt said she feels the lower unemployment rate, willingness to collaborate with other departments and less negative press has moved the county in the right direction.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at (704) 797-4246.

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