First Posted: 3/5/2015
At Wednesday’s Surry County Board of Commissioners retreat, the four commissioners who were present for the entirety of the meeting put their minds together to set the county’s goals for the coming years.
Following a morning filled with reports from county administration and votes to send the N.C. 89 sewer project to bid and to deny a motion to reinstate the Westfield Booster Club’s lease agreement at the Westfield Community Center, the board participated in a goal-setting workshop facilitated by former County Planner Darren Rhoads.
When Commissioners “Buck” Golding, Larry Phillips, Eddie Harris, and Jimmy Miller expressed their individual goals for Surry County, it was apparent that there were a number of common concerns and initiatives among the commissioners. Among the goals of the commissioners were ensuring financial stability, developing an economic development strategy for the county, investing in recreation and the protection of natural resources, and adequately funding Surry County’s three school systems.
Following presentations by county department heads, most of whom requested additional funding, and in the wake of a schools facilities study that may lead to $173 million in expenditures over the next 10 years, tackling the goal of financial stability seemed foremost on the minds of the four commissioners in attendance.
As commissioners listed a number of projects which the county would need to soon tackle, the group was grappling with how to move forward with important county business while maintaining financial stability.
According to Deputy County Manager Betty Taylor, the county’s financial position is strong. Taylor says the amount Surry County must pay in debt service continues to drop, and if the county was to borrow no more money all debt would be paid off by 2029.
Also factoring into Taylor’s assessment of county finances is the fact that, according to her and Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove, tax collections in Surry County have exceeded that of last year at this time. Taylor said the county is $8.6 million ahead in revenue collections, but she also stated that number will likely flat-line some as the year continues.
While financial stability became the overshadowing goal of the Board of Commissioners, the other three goals were also discussed at length. For Commissioner Larry Phillips economic growth in Surry County is a pressing matter.
Phillips says that Surry County must take strides in attracting business and industry to the area. The commissioners agreed that Surry County must develop an economic development strategy over the course of next year. The commissioners said it would need to be a team effort that included municipal governments and other organizations.
County Commissioner Eddie Harris conveyed his concerns about any impact additional industry might have on the natural resources of Surry County and the county’s growing appeal to ecotourists. Harris said that further developing the county’s recreation opportunities is key in economic growth.
Harris discussed the completion of initiatives such as two more canoe access points, the Mountains to Sea Trail and continued maintenance of the parks system as pivotal in maintaining Surry County’s recreational opportunities for residents and visitors of Surry County.
One goal that didn’t get a lot of discussion was that of schools facilities funding. Given the commissioners’ goal of financial stability, the possible $173 million schools project will be a challenge for the board. While discussion on ways to fund the project was limited, commissioners mentioned the possibility of a bond issue, raising property taxes and an additional 1/4-percent sales tax to fund the project.
County Manager Chris Knopf said the schools project “far exceeds anything we’ve allocated,” in discussions regarding the expenditures. According to Taylor that’s because the current Board of Commissioners has adopted three school systems that have aged and been improved upon very little over the past decades. To clarify her point Taylor stated that from 1975 through 1992 the county incurred no additional debt issues for school facilities.