DOBSON — County commissioners approved the first of five rate increases in the Flat Rock/Bannertown Water and Sewer District.
At Monday evening’s meeting, the Surry County Board of Commissioners was forced to recess as the county board and then convene as the governing board of the water and sewer district to approve a seven-percent increase to water and sewer rates in the district.
“What the board wanted was moderate increases,” said County Manager Chris Knopf as he explained the increase was the first step in a five-year process to put the district to self-sufficiency.
Upon questioning from the board, Knopf noted all county water and sewer districts are subsidized by dollars from the general fund, an act which draws a letter pointing out the impropriety each year from the Local Government Commission.
A water and sewer district is supposed to be a free-standing legal entity which operates from the funds it raises through the services it provides.
“After five years, these increases will bring the district about to the point it’s breaking even,” said Knopf. “This (first increase) will show the LGC we are moving in the right direction.”
Another subject which drew comment from board members regarded a beautification project at the intersection of U.S. 52 and U.S. 52 Business in Mount Airy.
“It originated out of complaints,” explained Commissioner Larry Phillips. “People said what an eyesore that (traffic) island is, and at the time everybody was behind it (the project).”
“I’ll own this.”
Phillips was referencing a landscaping project at the intersection, which the county will now have to maintain. The county had contracted with the N.C. Department of Transportation to complete the work, which it did free of charge. However, per the agreement, Surry County took over the maintenance of the site in January.
Initially, the county had intended to hand over the site’s maintenance to a private group. However, those plans have since fallen through.
“The group has answered no correspondence,” said County Attorney Ed Woltz after mentioning one or all of the businesses located at the corner might have an interest in maintaining the site.
Woltz also said the maintenance is limited to placing mulch at the site, watering the plants and replacing any plants which die.
Phillips said the project “is well within the scope of what we are trying to do as a county,” explaining it is a beautification project meant to ensure a visitor’s first glimpse of Mount Airy wasn’t a negative image.
“Well, I think we need to find another sponsor,” said Commissioner Van Tucker.
In a subsequent interview, Phillips indicated some extenuating circumstances might be at play with the group which had been planning to take over the maintenance. He’s sure some civic or church group will find the project to be a fulfilling service to the community.
In other business, a bid for a foreclosed property located at 2206 Ward’s Gap Road will have to wait for approval. Facilities Director Don Mitchell said some possible issues regarding the deed for the property have to be worked out before the county can transfer the property.
“There’s no accurate description of the property,” noted Woltz, before stating the situation needed to be “remedied prior to moving on the property.”
Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove appeared before the board. He sought and received his appointment to collect property taxes on the county’s behalf throughout the current fiscal year. He also came bearing good news.
Surry County collected more than 98 percent of taxes owed in the last fiscal year, the highest collection rate in recent years, according to Hartgrove.
He introduced his staff, noting they were the ones who did the leg work in collecting taxes.
“People don’t just pay because we ask them to,” remarked Hartgrove.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.