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County commissioners pass 2020-21 budget, increase fire tax rate for some citizens

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — During a virtual regular meeting on Monday, county commissioners approved the 2020-21 proposed fiscal budget, but gave a fire tax increase for property owners in the Scotch Irish and South Salisbury districts to boost those departments’ revenue.

The budget amounts to $176.4 million in expenditures, with $153.5 million from the general fund. With questions remaining about how COVID-19 will affect the economy, it also includes an estimated 9.5% reduction in sales tax income. Additionally, the property tax rate remains at 65.75 cents per $100 valuation rate.

The Scotch Irish Fire Department initially previously charged a 6-cent tax rate to fund its operations, and commissioners approved its request for a 9-cent rate. South Salisbury Fire Department had levied an 8.75-cent rate and received approval for a 9.75-cent rate.

All commissioners except Craig Pierce agreed the departments needed the additional tax revenue. Pierce said a tax increase — particularly one of 50% for Scotch Irish — didn’t sit well with him as it’s not fair to raise taxes on the public during the current pandemic. The proposed budget initially didn’t include any increase in taxes for citizens of the county.

Commissioners Vice Chairman Jim Greene said the citizens of the Scotch Irish area were in support of the increase, as the department only brings in a little more than $75,000 each year with its current rate. He added that “buying equipment is impossible for them,” and that the increase is for the overall good of the fire department.

Pierce added that he’d feel more comfortable with an incremental increase and that, perhaps, the departments should look into consolidating with others if the revenue isn’t enough.

The increases will amount to an additional $37,677 in revenue for Scotch Irish and an additional $81,854 for South Salisbury.

Commissioners also approved allocating $50,000 to incentivize broadband companies to begin rural broadband construction in the county, rather than waiting for an unknown date for funding from the state. Additionally, $1,500 was allocated to the county’s Crime Stoppers initiative. Both of those allocations will come from the contingency line item amount of $70,000, which allows for changes to the budget without exceeding the overall recommended general fund.

Otherwise, the remaining budget was passed as originally proposed, which includes $1.39 million for the risk management fund; $9.6 million for the landfill fund; $4.58 million for the airport fund and $136,000 for the water fund.

Also at the meeting:

  • Commissioners approved a request from property owners Mark and Lorin Oden to rezone their 8.36-acre tract, located in the 8600 block of Bringle Ferry Road, from commercial, business, industrial to rural agriculture. The land initially was intended for a pier and dock construction business, but the family didn’t move forward with the business.
  • Commissioners approved the release of deposit and voluntary dismissal related to the former Thelma’s Down Home Cooking at West End Plaza. In January, there was a mass shooting at the restaurant. County government terminated the lease with Luckey in January as well. There was past due rent and further breaches in the contract due to the shootingThe request is specific to issues of past due rent due to the county, and property cleaning and repair costs incurred by the county.
  • Commissioners approved the Rowan County Emergency Management Division’s request to accept the award for three grant awards, totaling $17,695.45. One will provide money for citizen preparedness cards, while another allocates funding for hazardous materials team training. The Emergency Management Performance Grant Supplemental will provide $12,695.45 for technology needs for COVID-19. It requires a 50% match.
  • Commissioners approved that a contract be negotiated with Bogle Firm Architecture for architectural projects related to COVID-19 and ADA Compliance. The work will include creating work environments that minimize the transmission of COVID-19.
  • Commissioners approved a contract with Salcoa Contracting in the amount of $911,525 for the construction of a concession stand at Dan Nicholas Park. The 3,522-square-foot facility will be both an office and concession stand facility.
  • Commissioners approved a three-year contract to continue service with Charter Spectrum for Internet Service and Fiber Connectivity to the two existing and one additional library branches.
  • Commissioners approved Rowan County Department of Social Services and One Church One Child’s request to accept a COVID-19 Relief Fund Grant from Cardinal Innovations Healthcare. The grant is $20,000 and doesn’t require a match from the county.
  • Commissioners approved a request from Nan Buehrer, the executive director of the Rufty-Holmes Senior Center, to sign and approve a plan to be submitted to Centralina AA by June 30. The proposed funding plan allocates the use of the Home and Community Care Block Grant, which provides vital services to older adults. The grant requires a 10% matching from the county, which is $97,528.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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