Republican candidates for Board of Commissioners talk about incentives, experience and education at forum – Reuters
SALISBURY – Rising from his seat and approaching the crowd gathered in the Heritage Hall in downtown Salisbury, Greg Edds passionately defended on Tuesday evening the tax incentives that the Rowan County Board of Commissioners approved to boost county economic growth.
Edds was responding to a question posed to the five Republican board candidates who are on the ballot in the upcoming primary, but he was specifically responding to criticism of those perceived incentives by challenger Angie Spillman in what was one of the liveliest moments of the fiery forum.
Spillman and fellow challenger Michael Julian are running against incumbents Edds, Jim Greene and Judy Klusman, who are campaigning on a unified platform and each seeking a third consecutive term on the board. Edds is the current Chairman of the Board and Greene is the Vice Chairman. Alisha-Byrd Clark, who currently sits on the Rowan-Salisbury Schools Board of Education, and Sam Post, owner of PhenomWell CBD Store, are running as Democrats and therefore did not participate in the forum.
Economic incentives were one of many topics discussed by candidates at the event – the first in a series of candidate forums hosted by the Rowan County Republican Party ahead of early voting beginning April 28 and l May 17 primary election. Candidates spent an hour answering questions compiled by the Rowan County Republican Party and posed by moderator Stephen Kidd, a local businessman and former chairman of the Rowan County Republican Party.
Question: “What is your current job or background and how has this experience prepared you to lead Rowan County as a commissioner?”
Edds, a local State Farm agent, said his career in insurance sales prepared him to be a leader because he learned to differentiate his product from other businesses. He also mentioned being listed among the company’s top 50 agents in the country several times.
“I know what success looks like and I know how to bring success to organizations, businesses and communities,” Edds said.
Greene said his career as an independent insurance agent helped him learn how to get the best deals for his clients, which he says helped him get the best economic deals for the citizens of the world. Rowan County while working with the Rowan Economic Development Council.
Julian said his experience as a shipping manager at Packaging Corporation of America taught him how to effectively manage a budget and lead people. He also mentioned his experience as a small business owner as an asset that would help him as a commissioner.
Klusman said her seven years of experience as commissioner prepared her for another term. She also highlighted her experience overseeing a multi-billion budget in the Wisconsin state legislature, as well as her experience managing her family’s dairy farm budget as a young adult.
Spillman, an entrepreneur, said she is qualified to be a commissioner because she learned from the “failed policies” of the current Board of Commissioners. Spillman said his formal education, including his current pursuit of a Ph.D. public policy, would help her if elected.
Question: “What is the #1 problem you think the county is facing today that you think you are best equipped to solve?”
Spillman pointed to crime as the county’s most pressing issue and said his goal is to make the community safer. She plans to do this by creating a “countywide civic organization” of guides to escort trained professional volunteers to assess homeless camps in the area and separate the homeless into groups, at which point they will be transferred to group homes, nursing homes, or out of county jails.
Klusman has highlighted substance use as her top priority as she prepares for re-election. Earlier this year, Klusman and other community health leaders floated the idea of creating a drug rehabilitation and treatment center to help those struggling with addiction. She said that the realization of this center would be one of her main objectives if she were elected for another term.
Julian agreed that crime and substance abuse are two major issues, but said a “lack of education” within the school system is Rowan County’s main problem. The RSS Board of Education has influence over school policies in the district, but the Rowan County Board of Commissioners provides the district with funding and may assume debt for major capital projects and physical improvements. Julian said something needed to be done to increase test scores in county schools.
For Greene, the main problem the county will face in the near future is managing the “unprecedented” growth that is brewing. Greene said he would like to create new jobs and promote economic development while retaining the “flavor” of Rowan County, which he says is its blend of urban and natural landscapes.
While Edds has spent time defending the council’s record on crime reduction – specifically mentioning that the council has ‘never said no’ to the sheriff – he agreed with Julian that education is the priority absolute. He said he would like to see better vertical alignment between the county’s K-12 schools, Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, and Catawba and Livingstone Colleges.
Question: “What is your role in working with the Rowan-Salisbury school system and local colleges to better prepare graduates for employment and well-paying technical vocations and careers?”
Edds highlighted the education collaboration the Board of Commissioners has with local education officials. Edds said the collaboration meets regularly and aims to connect local educational institutions to achieve the county’s “economic goals.” The collaboration seeks to ensure schools across the county are aligned, Edds said. Edds said he would like to continue to identify and teach the skills that need to be taught to students to prepare them for skilled jobs.
Greene echoed Edds in talking more about the work of the Educational Collaborative, but also mentioned RCCC’s Better Jobs, Better Lives program which is county-funded and teaches continuing education courses to help the “unemployed and underemployed.” employees”.
Julian said he would push to bolster the school system’s vocational and technical training offerings for students who have no interest in college but need a skill to earn a living. Julian said a high school entirely dedicated to vocational and technical education would be ideal; although it is not certain that the funding is available to make this a reality.
Klusman mentioned his involvement in Smart Start Rowan’s efforts to support early childhood education and encouraged parents to get involved in local schools by volunteering and reading to young children.
Spillman criticized the current Board of Commissioners for failing to resist local and state COVID-19 health and safety guidelines such as mask mandates. While commissioners don’t set school policy, she said “it’s up to you” because of the board’s influence over school system finances. Spillman also criticized remote learning and said schools should stop teaching students to become “Marxists.”
Question: “What is your position on economic development and how incentives can be used to entice potential employers to expand and locate in Rowan County?”
Spillman said she disagreed with giving corporate tax incentives and likened the deals to selling “false dreams.” She went on to say that businesses brought into the county will leave once the terms of the incentive agreements are completed.
“I think we’re screwing it up with all the incentives and how we’re selling Rowan County for an industry,” Spillman said.
Klusman said she would like to remove the incentives, but acknowledged they are key to spurring business development, which is key to having a strong tax base for the county to support education and other initiatives.
Julian said he’s worried that companies like Macy’s – which recently announced plans to locate an e-commerce fulfillment center in China Grove – will “pack their bags and move to the next state or county. “once the terms of their incentive agreements are completed. But Julian said giving incentives is the “game we have to play” to get businesses to move to Rowan County.
Greene said the county could revert to not giving incentives. This would lead to higher taxes, Greene said, because the tax base would be lower.
“We’ve expanded that tax base with millions and millions of dollars in incentives over the last eight years and that’s how this county is growing,” Greene said.
Edds relied on numbers to explain why he, Klusman and Greene supported economic incentives. He used the incentive deal the county gives to Macy’s as an example. The county will refund 80% of the new taxes paid by Macy’s over 15 years.
“Here’s the return: 2,800 full-time jobs, 2,600 additional part-time and seasonal jobs, and the payroll that will be dumped into Rowan County by Macy’s will be $100 million a year,” Edds said. “After pouring $100 million a year into our economy, people have money in their hands.”
Edds said the cash will be infused into the local economy as people use it to purchase goods and services.
“People have money to spend and you know how that feels?” Edds said. “It creates more jobs.”
The Rowan County Republican Party will host a forum for clerk and district attorney candidates tonight at 6:30 p.m. in Stanback Auditorium at the Rowan Public Library Main Branch. Clerk candidates Rebecca Saleeby and Todd Wyrick will be first followed by District Attorney Brandy Cook and challenger Paxton Butler at 7:30 p.m.