An RFP Interview with Jim Sides Candidate for Rowan County Commissioner 2018

Posted on March 15, 2018

Steve Mensing, Editor

♦ An RFP Interview with Jim Sides Candidate for Rowan County Commissioner 2018:

Jim, Why are you running for Rowan County Commissioner?

My faith in God and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ as my Saviour and my love for my family and friends are first and foremost in all decisions I make in my life. I prayed for more than six months prior to filing for office and consulted with family and friends to seek direction in this decision. I want to be in God’s will, whatever I do, and I feel a great responsibility to my family and friends in the few short years I have left on this earth. I have peace that whether I win or lose the election, I made the right choice to run. To quote the greatest preacher of our time, Reverend Billy Graham, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” The fact that I was a County Commissioner will not be important at the end of my life; my integrity as a County Commissioner will.

I have been privileged to serve the citizens of Rowan County as their county commissioner for three previous terms. I cannot begin to express what an honor that’s been for me. I pray for our county and its citizens every day and will continue to do so, even if I am not re-elected.

I was born and raised in Rowan County. I love my county and its citizens and want to do all that is within my power to help them have the best life possible. The best way for that to happen is for government to interfere as little as possible in their lives. My motto has always been Less Government, Less Taxes, Less Control. To quote President Ronald Reagan as it related to the Economic Recession of the early 1980’s, “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

Government clearly gets too involved in our everyday lives in trying to control everything around us, when we would all be better off if government just got out of our way and left us alone. Government spends too much of our hard earned money, and on things not a proper function of government. To quote President Ronald Reagan again, he said, “The problem is not that people are taxed too little, the problem is that government spends too much. The budget from 2014 to now has increased from $135 million dollars to $150 million dollars. That represents $15 million dollars in increased revenue. When is it time to consider a tax cut? The Federal Government has reduced taxes, the State Government has reduced taxes. Now it is time that Rowan County reduced taxes. With property revaluation just around the corner, I am afraid taxpayers will have a tax increase even if the tax rate does not increase. It is also time to remove the ¼ cent sales tax that was imposed for specific purposes and promised to sunset in 10 years. Let’s keep the promises we make to our citizens.

Finally, the Bible says in Romans chapter 13:1, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers, For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.” If government is ordained of God, we certainly need for Christians to be involved.

What would you do to bring the West End Plaza back to its original plan?

When the county commissioners voted to buy the West End Plaza, the board’s intent was to save the county money by meeting current and future space needs with up-fitting of the mall buildings rather than new construction. Also, by placing some county government functions in this area of the county, the area would be somewhat re-vitalized and the mall would not become rundown and an eyesore to the community. The arguments for purchasing the mall were much greater than the arguments against purchasing. Plans were to move the Veterans Service office and the Board of Elections to the mall shortly after the purchase and then to develop plans for moving the Department of Social Services and the Health Department. Once new members were elected to the board in 2014, plans were delayed and changes were made. Those changes and delays have kept the West End Plaza from being developed to its fullest potential. I believe that the West End Plaza should be developed by the county to fully utilize all 320,000 square feet of space. Much of that space should be occupied by county departments; other space could be used by non-profits or educational organizations; other space could remain leased to private businesses. All of this would benefit the citizens of Rowan County much more than allowing the space to remain empty.

As the holder of the purse strings for RSSS, how might you react to their building needs?

It is the legislated responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners to meet the capital needs of the school system. I believe the problem here is twofold. First, the local school system, as a whole, has historically had a problem identifying needs versus wants. There are schools with vacant seats that could be filled by redistricting or allowing school choice. This would eliminate the need for some of the desired new schools. Other options are available, as well, which would reduce the amount of capital funds needed in the immediate future. The second problem lies in the amount of local support given to the administrative side of the financial support for the schools. This expense is the responsibility of the state. However, local contributions have grown over the years in this area to the point that this expense is so great on the county that limited resources are left for meeting capital needs. The current needs projection by the local school system for capital expenditures is over $200 million dollars. I believe this figure is unrealistic with the downturn in enrollment figures for the local public schools. With a pending reduction in debt service payments for school capital expenditures in 2020, I believe a bond issue of $60 to $70 million dollars for school capital needs might be realistic and possible with no tax increase.   I believe $200 million would be simply out of the question.

Education is key and vital to the economic success of Rowan County. But our educational system in Rowan County is failing, but it is not due to a lack of money as you are so often led to believe. We have kicked God out of our schools; we have kicked prayer out of our schools; we have kicked the Bible out of our schools. Many children today seemingly have no values, no morals, no ethics, no respect, no personal responsibility, no love for their fellow human beings. These are the things we learned from God’s Holy Word, but they are all but forgotten in our educational system today. We have made the important things unimportant. We have gone from common sense to common core. We have gone from a real live textbook in your hand to texting. We have gone from discipline to counseling where we no longer apply the board of education to the seat of learning. We have replaced chalkboard lectures with ipads and ipods and macs and pcs and everything else technical rather than human.

More buildings, newer buildings, bigger buildings will not fix the problems we face in education today. More money for administration, for Assistant Superintendents, for Assistant Principals, none of this will fix the problems in education today We need to get back to the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. We need to untie the teacher’s hands and let them teach rather than babysit and fill out reports. We need to restore order in the classroom so that students look up to the teachers with due respect and as a voice of authority. But, I forget, I am not running for school board.

What is your impression of the water and sewer plans for the southern and northern parts of the County? What about the I-85 interchange?

If Rowan County is going to incentivize business in any way at all, it should be through its investments in infrastructure, such as water and sewer. It should not be through direct reimbursement of taxes paid. Water and sewer are important to both businesses and individuals and benefit both, while incentives cost the taxpayer while only benefiting the businesses.

Water and sewer are very expensive investments for any county. I highly favor a bond referendum for these type expenses to allow the citizens to decide their willingness to fund such costly endeavors.

The completion of the widening project along interstate I-85 and the addition of a major interchange in the southern part of Rowan County will automatically result in major economic growth for our area. Some of this growth will come from businesses locating in these areas. Some of the growth will come from residential building. Both of these enterprises will need water and sewer and the county is correct in being proactive in the effort to provide these services.

Water for the northern end of the county is very critical need for those citizens affected by the Duke Energy water well contamination problem. This assistance to the citizens in this area is late in coming, but is at least on track for completion in the near future. While this water line will provide much needed relief for these county residents, it will also provide for economic development of property in the same general area.

I would remind citizens that Duke Energy received more than $6 million dollars in incentives from Rowan County over a recent 10 year period. So their argument that they are paying for this water line extension to you at a cost of approximately $2.5 million dollars is almost laughable. They still walked away with a net of at least $3.5 million dollars of your tax money. How far would that much money have gone to solve the crime problem or to support education in Rowan County? That is a fact you won’t hear from them or the print media.

What are your ideas about the best ways to grow Rowan County and our current policy of Economic Development?

Growth that is natural, that is predicated on investment by those willing to succeed or fail based on their own talents, those willing to take a chance at the American Dream, that is the type of growth I favor for Rowan County. Growth fostered by the free enterprise system will benefit the county for many years to come. Growth fostered by government manipulation and interference will ultimately cost the county in years to come. With growth comes rewards. But with growth comes costs also. What do you want the county to look like in 10 years? Another 10,000 houses or apartments; another 15,000 cars; another 25,000 people requiring more schools and services to support them. The list goes on and on. Should you the citizen and taxpayer make those choices, or do you want your government to make them for you? You decide.

When we speak of economic development, the only thing that comes to my mind is incentives. My question is why are there no incentives for businesses to come to Rowan County outside the taxpayers paying them? Rowan County has much to offer. With the changes along I-85, the long awaited growth will naturally come to Rowan County. Economic Development will take care of itself, only if we let it. We can place big signs, at great expense, along the interstate welcoming people to Rowan County; we can rebrand and remarket and rename ourselves, at great expense in the media; we can spend great sums on social media trying to sell ourselves to others. We don’t need to “Be an Original”, we just need to be ourselves… it will cost us a lot less money and will be much more effective at getting us to where we want to be.

In truth, economic development, the way we see it today, is way oversold on its worth and effectiveness, and way undersold on its true cost to the taxpayers who foot the bill. Incentives, which drive economic development today, are a blight on our society. Government should not be involved in picking winners and losers in business as it basically does today. Everyone should be entitled to incentives or no one should be entitled to incentives.

Would you support our Sheriff’s Office continued rescue of Salisbury?

Salisbury residents are Rowan County residents as well. They deserve the same safe and welcoming environment as any other citizen of the county in which to live and work and raise their families. They pay county taxes and city taxes. The city residents cannot be blamed for the financial condition that the city has found itself in. The blame lies with the city council and the reckless spending policies of previous administrations. While I do not feel compelled to help the city of Salisbury out of its financial dilemma, I do feel compelled to assist in the safety and protection of the taxpaying citizens of the city of Salisbury. I appreciate that the Rowan County commission has reached out to the residents of Salisbury through the aid of the Sheriff’s Office and would continue this aid as long as necessary. If I understand correctly, the majority of the cost of this aid is repaid to the county by the city. What is not recovered from the city, is certainly a good investment on the part of Rowan County. Perhaps, one day, the city fathers themselves will realize that Rowan County is their friend and ally, not their enemy. I certainly want the taxpayers of the city to see things that way.

Would you put an end to the county’s excessive closed sessions? What might be done to improve transparency?

Sometimes closed sessions are necessary and sometimes they are not. I certainly have in the past always leaned toward open meetings with the public. I never went into closed session unless guided to do so by the county attorney. I was careful while in closed session to not stray from the particular topic of discussion covered by the closed session. I believe in as much transparency in government as is legally possible. I want the general public to be fully informed regarding all business that concerns them and would strive to continue that policy. During my past tenure as county commissioner, I worked hard to have the county rated A+ in the area of accountability and transparency on their website. Rowan County currently displays and makes available on their website more public information related to county business than any other county I know of. If I am re-elected to the board of county commissioners, I will work hard to make even more information available to the general public and in a form that is usable to them.

Can you speak about the many accomplishments of the last commission you were on?

We negotiated the sale of the Kannapolis Ball Park to the city of Kannapolis. The ballpark was an area of contention for many years between the county and Kannapolis. It never made money as promised in the beginning and actually drained Rowan County of $150,000 dollars per year. The park was in need of approximately $3 million dollars in improvements and there was the constant threat that the ball team was going to leave unless major concessions were made to them. By cutting our losses, which were already great, we saved the county $150,000 dollars per year and picked up $60,000 dollars revenue per year for 60 years.

We renamed the County Administrative Building to the J. Newton Cohen Rowan County Administrative Building and placed a bronze plaque in his honor on the front of the building. Mr. Cohen, a county commissioner at the time, was instrumental in having this building renovated and restored to its former glory and was never properly honored for this service to the county.

We successfully fought against the efforts of the Salisbury Historical Committee to prevent us from placing the wording “IN GOD WE TRUST”, our national motto, on the front of the administrative building.

We changed county ordinances to keep sex offenders out of our parks and away from our children.

Rather than bow to their pressure, we fought the ACLU on the matter of commissioners being allowed to pray publicly prior to their meetings. This matter is currently before the US Supreme Court and we hope that soon it will be decided in Rowan County’s favor.

We built a new satellite jail annex in the county to alleviate jail overcrowding and were successful in renting some of the excess space to other counties who were also experiencing overcrowding. This practice saved our taxpayers many thousands of dollars over time.

We stopped the Board  of Education from making a major mistake of building the new Central School Office on a contaminated site at 329 South Main Street in Salisbury.

We succeeded in having the NC Legislature pass legislation to stop the practice of forced annexation across North Carolina. This stopped cities from forcefully annexing areas into their boundaries simply for tax revenue purposes.

We lobbied the NC Legislature for a local bill to remove the Rowan County Airport property from the City of Salisbury following a forced annexation of the same.

We built a 15,000 square foot corporate aircraft hangar on airport property. I believe this is the largest hangar ever built on the property and the first built in many years. With a lower tax rate than many neighboring counties, due in part to the de-annexing of airport property from the City of Salisbury, the hangar was subsequently leased and will generate sufficient revenue over time to pay for itself.

We completely revamped the 911 emergency system in Rowan County. We transitioned all our emergency radios and telecommunications to a newly mandated system. We built a new state of the art emergency telecommunications building second to none in the state and envied by many.

We purchased the 320,000 square foot Salisbury Mall for $3,245,000 dollars.

While in full operation the mall was valued at well over $10,000,000 dollars for tax purposes. While in decline, but still operating, it was devalued to approximately $6,500,000 dollars. We purchased the mall for a little more than half that value. Considering current and future space needs of the county at that present time, and what would probably have become of the mall had we not purchased it, the board felt this was a good financial move for county citizens.

Let me say that many other accomplishments were made during my tenure as a Rowan County Commissioner. None of those accomplishments can be claimed by any one person. None of them would have been possible without the help and input of many people other than the county commissioners. The real credit for these accomplishments, great or small, goes to the taxpayers of Rowan County.

It is their county, and they are what make it the great and forward thinking county it is.

How important do you feel this election is to the people of Rowan County?

This is a critical time in the history of Rowan County and a very important election for the taxpayers of the county. It is very important for them to get out and exercise their right to vote for the candidates of their choice.

I would simply say to the taxpayers of Rowan County, if you are 100% happy with the direction county government has taken over the last three years, then don’t change anything. Leave the three incumbents in office. If, on the other hand, you are not happy at the prospect of major tax increases in the future, I present myself as your “TRUMP” card in this election. If you want someone who will ask the hard questions, push back against unnecessary, unwanted and unwarranted government intrusion into your lives, say no to tax increases, say yes to tax cuts, keep you informed and educated about what is going on in your government, be fiscally responsible with your tax dollars and advocate for you in every way humanly possible as a county commissioner, then vote for JIM SIDES on May 8th, 2018.

I hope you will pray for me. I will be praying for you.

May God Bless us all.

Jim Sides Billboard on Hwy 29 North in Rowan County, NC

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