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Editorial: How will Rowan County spend $28 million?

If you had $28 million, how would you spend it?

Would you save it for a rainy day and stash it away in your savings account? Maybe you’d pay off bills before saving the rest for later.

Other options: invest it for your family’s future and/or buy something nice for yourself and family members.

That amount of money could secure a family’s finial future now and create a comfortable lifestyle for generations to come.

It’s a lot of money for local government, too. And if calculations are right, it’s the dollar figure coming to Rowan County from the newest federal relief bill.

So, how does the Rowan County Board of Commissioners plan to spend it? They’re not sure yet. Mostly, it seems, county officials are skeptical that amount is even coming. From a previous relief bill — the CARES Act — Rowan County received $5.3 million.

There are some categories commissioners and staff know are safe for spending, says Chairman Greg Edds. The areas include water and sewer infrastructure as well as broadband internet. The county likely could restart the business grant program started with federal funds received last year. It could boost the top dollar amount or broaden the criteria. The county probably couldn’t use it for the events center it hopes to build at West End Plaza or a number of other capital project, but it might be able to fund targeted add-ons to Rowan Cabarrus Community College’s advanced manufacturing center approved in a bond referendum last year.

Commissioners could incentivize broadband providers to improve rural service even further from the amounts approved with previous relief money. But commissioners could also ensure all picnic shelters or community centers in publicly owned parks in the county have fast Wi-Fi access. How about public internet access on every Main Street in Rowan County?

Those are the easy-to-conceive ideas. What sort of infrastructure projects might be possible that would truly be worthy of the title “American Rescue Plan?”

Edds says there will be ideas about how to spend the money five or six times over. Once there’s more certainty and guidance, the county may have a public work session just to talk about the funding, he said.

Whatever the final funding destinations, there’s plenty of time to decide. Local governments have until the end of 2024 to spend all the money. It’s most important to look for ways to improve the county’s economic condition in long-lasting ways and aim for inclusivity.

To accomplish those goals, elected and appointed officials will need the public’s ideas — from grade school to the elderly — and its help in telling as many local residents as possible  about opportunities once funding destinations are finalized.

If there was ever a policy decision for which a public hearing is perfect, it’s this one.

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