Final budget workshop scheduled for Thursday


Surry County Commissioners will be holding a final budget workshop Thursday evening. According to Board of Commissioners Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding, likely topics of conversation will include the requests from county officials that are not funded in County Manager Chris Knopf’s recommended budget.

Knopf told commissioners that he was able to accommodate a number of the budget requests of county department heads while still appropriating about $1.3 million less in the 2015-16 fiscal year’s budget than the budget of the current fiscal year.

Knopf told commissioners that was due, in part, to the fact that the current year’s budget was “inflated” due to payments on a QZAB grant associated with school funding.

Knopf, while accommodating many requests, did not fund the requests of officials in their entirety.

Emergency services

Knopf’s recommended budget includes a $609,000 allocation for the addition of one ambulance and full-time paramedic crew to Emergency Services Director John Shelton’s fleet. However, the budget would not fund the two “quick response vehicles” Shelton asked for in the budget proposal for his department.

Shelton first voiced his request for an additional ambulance and the two quick response vehicles at a Board of Commissioners retreat in early March. Shelton said the two quick response vehicles would be able to respond to calls in more remote areas of the county, rendering care until an ambulance could arrive.

According to Shelton’s budget proposal the two additional vehicles would have come at a cost of $267,000. Shelton told commissioners that the vehicles would be placed in Lowgap and Shoals, respectively.

Sheriff’s department

Knopf’s recommended budget addresses Sheriff Graham Atkinson’s concerns regarding his “aging” narcotics department. At an April budget workshop meeting Atkinson told commissioners that detectives in the county’s narcotics division were nearing retirement.

Atkinson told commissioners that countering drug-related crime has become ever tougher. For instance, Atkinson says that “the standard of proof has changed dramatically” once narcotics cases reach a court room. Knopf’s recommended budget would fund Atkinson’s two additional narcotics detectives by way of a $189,680 allocation.

However, Atkinson’s proposed budget for the Sheriff’s Department also included the addition of a DARE officer. At the April budget workshop Atkinson had told commissioners that the DARE officer was a full-time position, and that the duties of the position could not be covered by a patrol or school resource officer. Knopf’s budget makes no appropriation for the addition of a DARE officer to Atkinson’s ranks.

Schools

School officials saw a large gap between their budget requests and the appropriations that Knopf’s budget would authorize. All three school superintendents asked commissioners for increases in capital outlay, current expenses, technology, safety and special request funding.

In the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to school officials, all three school districts in the county received $100 per student for costs associated with capital expenses. Since that budget all three systems have seen that appropriation cut to $50 per student. Superintendent’s Travis Reeves, Greg Little and Randy Bledsoe made their case for increased funding at a budget workshop on April 14. However, Knopf’s budget would continue appropriating the $50 per student rate in the upcoming fiscal year.

Likewise, Knopf’s budget keeps the schools’ “current expenses” rate the same as in the current budget. School officials had asked commissioners to increase the rate from $1,090 per student to $1,125 per student.

Knopf’s recommended budget does make an appropriation for increases in “safety” funding in schools. The proposed budget would increase that funding source from $5 per pupil to $10 per pupil.

At the April 14 budget workshop officials from the three school systems asked commissioners to include about $23 million for special capital requests to make facilities improvements associated with a “schools facilities study” that was conducted in all three districts. Knopf’s recommended budget would stop well-short of funding that entire request.

Knopf’s budget would appropriate nearly $2 million in funding for special requests throughout the three districts. Those infrastructure improvements would include addressing roofing needs at Elkin Elementary and Surry Central High School. The appropriation would also fund projects at Tharington Primary, Mount Airy High and East Surry High.

Golding said that he and Commissioner Larry Phillips, the board’s finance committee, will be holding meetings with each of the county’s three superintendents on Wednesday to address any concerns those officials have with the recommended budget. Golding said it’s likely that he and Phillips will convey those concerns to the full board at Thursday’s budget workshop.

In the wake of the three schools facilities studies, which called for a combined $173 million in school infrastructure improvements throughout the county over the period of the next ten years, county and school officials have indicated that a bond referendum may be necessary to fund capital improvements in the county’s three school districts.

Fire departments

An invitation to meet with the Board of Commissioners’ Fire District Committee was extended to all of the county’s 16 volunteer fire departments. Five departments attended the meeting. Each of those departments and a number of others have asked commissioners to increase the property tax rate that funds each department.

Knopf’s budget message makes no recommendation for an increase in each department’s tax rate. Instead, Knopf states that the Fire District Committee will “convey its findings” to the full Board of Commissioners at Thursday’s budget workshop.

Knopf’s recommended budget would appropriate a $50,000 grant to the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department. That department will be in need of a new facility when the county’s airport extends its runway. The department’s current station will have to be demolished in the process of the airport’s expansion.

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