County seeks new agreement at airport

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — County officials “want to renegotiate” a deal for overseeing operations at the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport, and Surry County is nearing completion in its task of moving away from using PayPal.

On Monday, as part of the board’s consent agenda, the Surry County Board of Commissioners authorized County Manager Chris Knopf to enter into negotiations with Mount Airy, the other stakeholder at the airport.

The correspondence included in the agenda packets stated, “Following a lengthy review, the Finance Committee finds that it would be in the county’s best interest to revisit the existing inter-local agreement.”

The motion, along with the additional items included in the consent agenda, were passed unanimously by commissioners.

Board Chairman Buck Golding, who sits on the Finance Committee, said it is premature to unveil the exact thoughts or reasoning behind the Finance Committee’s recommendation.

The county and city entered into this inter-local agreement in 2010. It creates a seven-member airport authority to oversee the operations at the airport. Surry County makes five appointments to the authority, with Mount Airy making two.

According to County Attorney Ed Woltz, the city made more appointments to the board prior to the 2010 agreement. However, when the city sought to lessen or eliminate its financial support at the airport, the agreement was drafted to give Mount Airy only the two appointments.

Golding said his Finance Committee, on which Vice Chairman Eddie Harris also sits, had made no recommendation to the entire county board as to what it wants to see in a new agreement between the two entities.

“Everything is in limbo,” explained Golding. “We only know that we want to renegotiate the agreement.”

Golding said Knopf’s first steps toward that end will be to set up a meeting between the Finance Committee and whomever will represent Mount Airy. He does not yet know what will come out of such a meeting.

“It’s just a first step to bring everybody to the table,” said Golding.

As for the reasons for such a step, Golding didn’t have much to say.

“There is stuff there we can’t get our hands and minds wrapped around,” said Golding, mentioning there may be some questions regarding the use of grant monies at the airport.

He said the process of getting hands and minds wrapped around whatever prompted the recommendation from the committee and the process of renegotiating the agreement with Mount Airy will be completed incrementally.

Shifting from Paypal

In May Commissioner Larry Phillips led a movement to instruct all county departments to halt their use of PayPal for transactions after the company pulled its expansion plans in North Carolina in the wake of House Bill 2, the so called “bathroom bill.”

The board unanimously approved the measure. However, county staff noted it would not be an immediate shift. On Monday commissioners approved the last step in the process.

The board signed off on an agreement which will allow Forte Payment Systems to take over the transactions for tax payments, replacing PayPal as the county’s vendor for such transactions.

“This is the last step in the process,” said Tax Administrator Michael Hartgrove, who also explained he will soon send a termination notice to PayPal.

“I will be as direct as possible,” said Hartgrove, following up on Harris’s instruction to note why the county was terminating its agreement.

“This company (Forte) has no history of political activism attacking the state of North Carolina?” asked Harris before receiving a confirming response from Hartgrove.

Hartgrove said the transition will have little effect on those paying their tax bills.

“It is comparable,” said Hartgrove. “It should be relatively seamless for the public.”

He did note there will be effects internally, as county staff may need to train on the new payment program.

By Andy Winemiller

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.

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