Sewer project gets go-ahead


County Manager Chris Knopf addresses the questions of commissioners regarding the 2015-16 fiscal year’s budget.

DOBSON — By way of a 3-2 vote the Surry County Board of Commissioners awarded the bid for the NC 89 sewer project to the local firm of Smith-Roe LLC. However, the motion, made by Commissioner Larry Phillips, is contingent on receiving pledges from affected property owners who lobbied for the project’s completion.

Additionally, the Board of Commissioners, following a public hearing voted to approve County Manager Chris Knopf’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The sewer project will extend sanitary sewer services along NC 89 to the I-77 and I-74 interchanges and was initially part of a project that ran water lines through the affected area in 2010.

In May Phillips asked his fellow commissioners for the authority to conduct an impact study which would weigh the costs of the project versus new sales tax and property tax revenues that could be created by the project. Phillips worked with affected property owners and county staff to generate estimated revenues that could result from extending sewer services to the area.

At last Thursday’s budget workshop Phillips presented the findings of the study to fellow commissioners. Phillips also told the board that the project had earned his vote. Phillips told commissioners that the project would create an estimated $790,000 in additional property tax revenue and $962,000 in sales tax revenue from new businesses that have been proposed by property owners.

Phillips said those numbers plus the $252,000 in pledges from property owners was enough to garner his vote. Phillips has been what project supporters call “the swing vote” on the project, with Commissioners Jimmy Miller and Paul Johnson “firm yes votes” to move the project forward.

The motion leaves project supporters with only one loose end to tie prior to seeing the project move forward. At last week’s budget workshop County Attorney Ed Woltz halted a possible vote to award the contract for the project. Woltz said that property owners who wished to pay their pledges by way of annual payments to the county needed to sign promissory notes to ensure payments would be made.

Per last night’s contingent motion to award the contract, affected property owners who have made monetary pledges toward the project’s completion have until June 22 to either pay their contributions in full or sign promissory notes ensuring that the county will receive annual payments toward the pledges over the period of the next ten years.

According to Phillips’ presentation if additional property tax and sales tax revenues are as estimated the county will invest $1.3 million in the sewer project. However, initially the county will need to borrow about $3.3 million for the project. Those borrowed monies will cover other revenues that the county will receive in increments in forthcoming years.

One such instance is Mount Airy’s $1 million pledge toward the project, which the city will be paying in $200,000 payments over the course of the next five years. Assistant County Manager Betty Taylor said the county will incur about $400,000 in annual debt service payments.

Chairman R.F. “Buck” Golding told fellow commissioners that the matter of borrowing money to complete the project has been his “hang-up all along.” Commissioner Eddie Harris joined Golding in voting against awarding the contract for the sewer project.

After making a few changes the Board of Commissioners also approved County Manager Chris Knopf’s operating budget for the 2015-16 fiscal year. Knopf’s budget, in its initial form appropriated about $1.3 million less than the current year’s budget.

The budget appropriates additional funds to the county’s Emergency Services Department to fund an additional ambulance and crew. The budget will also fund two new narcotics detectives in the Sheriff’s Office. At a recent budget workshop Emergency Services Director John Shelton and Sheriff Graham Atkinson told commissioners they were “ok” with the budget Knopf had recommended.

Commissioners did change Knopf’s recommended budget in the area of schools funding, offering an amendment that increased school capital outlay funding from $50 to $60 per student and freeing a $40 per pupil technology appropriation to be used in any capital project.

Additionally, the changes offered by commissioners will fund the renovation of a water tank at Mountain Park Elementary School. Surry County Schools Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves had asked Golding and Phillips for the $25,000 appropriation in order to avoid asking the board for a “special appropriation” later in the year.

Reeves told the two commissioners that if the work on the water tank wasn’t completed during the school’s summer break, the school would have to be closed for seven to ten days during the school year.

Other changes to Knopf’s budget included about $76,000 in additional operating funds for Surry Community College and $140,000 to replace an elevator at the college that recently failed inspection. Commissioners also appropriated an additional 13,198 to cover costs associated with the Northwestern Regional Library System’s healthcare costs.

Following the amendments of commissioners, next year’s operating budget will for the county will be $73,969,812, which is still about $800,000 less than last year.

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