DOBSON — At a recent meeting the Surry County Board of Commissioners the board opted to seek a little assistance in planning for the county’s financial future.
Commissioners gave County Manager Chris Knopf the authority to begin interviewing three financial consulting firms for the job. Knopf outlined the need for the financial planning services in a letter to commissioners.
Referencing a school facilities study, Knopf wrote, “Collectively the needs identified in those studies equated to approximately $175 million over the next decade. This represents a significant need as identified by the public school systems and will require some critical and creative thinking as to how some of these needs can be funded.”
Knopf also stated there will be other capital projects the county must address. He called the point the county is at “an unprecedented time in the county’s history when it comes to the value of current capital needs with which we are faced.”
Commissioner Larry Phillips said the move to hire a financial planner was prompted by a need for a long-term financial plan for the county.
“There is no long-term financial policy or strategy,” said Phillips. “We need to have these discussions.”
Like Knopf, Phillips said school capital projects have played a role in the movement toward developing the long-term financial strategy. In the months preceding the beginning of the 2015-16 fiscal year, all three of the county’s school systems had facilities studies completed.
The studies revealed a needed $173 million in capital improvements throughout the course of the next decade, a figure that is almost two and a half times the county’s normal annual general fund operating budget. The studies have left Surry County officials searching for ways to fund the projects.
Commissioners have been in relative agreement that a bond referendum will be necessary to pay for the improvements, though no officials have yet given any specifics as to the amount of money which will need to be borrowed.
Phillips said the long-term financial plan will aid in the process of securing financing for the projects. It may also lead to a better interest rate, saving the Surry County taxpayer some money.
“When we go to get financing, one of the things companies will look at is if we have a financial policy,” explained Phillips. “If we have a long-term financial policy and are following it that will be reflected in a better interest rate.”
Board Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding said he and Phillips, who comprise the board’s finance committee, have been alongside Knopf in the negotiations with financial planning companies. Golding said the expenditure for the financial planner services will likely be between $25,000 and $30,000, but he said that will be money well spent.
“This is an awfully good time-line to be doing this,” said Golding.
Like the other two officials, Golding cited the school facilities studies as a contributing factor in the need for the policy. Golding also said other counties have used the same process for developing a plan.
Golding said, had county finance officer Betty Taylor not resigned months ago, the plan may have been able to be developed “in-house.” However, he said the county is now in need of “the sort of expertise” a financial planner brings to the table. He said the plans will be crucial to the board.
“Once we have this done, this board and future boards will have a guideline to reference when they look at capital projects,” said Golding.
According to Knopf, the plan is for county commissioners to examine the county’s financial position and the plans to address capital needs at the board’s Feb. 19 retreat.
Andy is a staff writer for The News and can be reached at (336) 415-4698.