Commissioners talk incentives for broadband construction, 2020 election funding
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — A financial incentive to begin developing rural broadband infrastructure in the county and more funding to the Board of Elections were two discussions among commissioners as they debated the proposed 2020-21 budget on Monday.
Rowan County Board of Commissioners met virtually at 1 p.m. on Monday for a budget work session and then heard public comments about the budget at 6 p.m.
The proposed budget amounts to $176.4 million in expenditures, with $153.5 million from the general fund. That’s a 4% reduction from the previous year, where the general fund budget was $159.48 million.
The proposed budget, which must be adopted by July 1, includes an estimated 9.5% reduction in sales tax revenue, which amounts to a $2.5 million loss. If adopted, the budget will not raise taxes and will maintain the 65.75 cents per $100 in valuation rate.
At the budget work session, commissioners discussed a years-long initiative to expand broadband in the rural areas of the county. Commissioners Chairman Greg Edds said the county anticipated receiving state funding to begin developing the infrastructure on July 1, but that date has now been pushed back indefinitely as additional funds have been implemented for more rural, needier counties.
Rowan County is in the second tier. Edds suggested to commissioners offering wireless broadband companies a financial incentive of $50,000 to begin the process. He said the incentive serves as both a business and economic development opportunity.
“It not only serves the public, but it also serves the fire station and emergency management services,” Edds said.
The Scotch Irish Township area of the county was a particular focal point.
Commissioner Craig Pierce expressed concern with whether the county would be reimbursed from the state once the grants are made available. Edds said he’s unsure, but “getting ahead” looks good for future grants.
The board agreed to add the $50,000 expense to the proposed budget by pulling from the contingency line item amount of $70,000. The contingency amount allows for changes to the budget without exceeding the overall recommended general fund.
The board will pursue the state about reimbursement after the budget is adopted.
Additionally, the board agreed to also pull $1,500 from contingency to fund Salisbury-Rowan Crime Stoppers.
Funding for the Board of Elections was another discussion during the public comment period. Despite a request for $927,196, the recommended amount in the proposed budget is $722,410. The Board of Elections was allotted $700,626 last year.
George W. Benson, a member of the Board of Elections, said the board is asking for safe, clean polls to make voting more accessible amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Not ensuring safety and health would “endanger our electoral process.”
Another Rowan County citizen said she was glad to hear discussion, about “the long overdue broadband incentives,” but she was “disappointed it was an afterthought.” Talking about a new building at Dan Nicholas Park, she said, “I wish you put that much value in our Board of Elections.”
Rowan County Democrats Chair Geoffrey Hoy also spoke in support of the funding as the “legitimacy of the entire democratic process is based upon voting.”
Funding for safer elections is part of the county’s recent grant of $2.56 million from the state’s Coronavirus Relief Fund. A total of $52,000 will be allotted, allowing for general election supplies, plexiglass shields at each table, floor spacing markers and hand sanitizers and disinfectant wipes.
Speakers at the public hearing were allowed three minutes to address the board. The public can submit comments via email at firstname.lastname@example.org until June 12.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct comments made during public comments.
Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.