DOBSON — Two gymnasium projects Elkin City Schools officials plan to address would cost more than $13 million, and school officials are asking for a local property-tax increase to fund the district’s operating costs.
On Thursday, Elkin Schools Superintendent Dr. Myra Cox told the Surry County Board of Commissioners that a renovation to the high school’s gym and constructing a gym for Elkin Middle School top the district’s list of capital needs.
Cox told the county board the two schools share one gym, making scheduling for extracurricular activities which need the space difficult. Nearly 600 students share one gym.
For example, during the winter, there were 10 sports teams fighting for practice: varsity and JV teams for boys and girls for both schools as well as both wrestling teams. Other school groups also use the gym.
The high school gym, constructed in the early 1960s, was identified in a facilities study completed in 2014 as the district’s number one capital need. It is not compliant with standards set forth in the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Cox explained as part of the $7.7 million plan to overhaul the gym, a triangular addition would be built onto the building. That addition, which would contain an elevator, is how the gym would gain its ADA compliance.
The project to build a second gym would cost the district nearly $5.4 million, bringing the total cost of the gymnasium projects to about $13.1 million.
School officials plan to use a portion of $30 million the county board has voted to borrow in the 2018-19 fiscal year to address those major capital needs. However, dollars will be needed for architectural, engineering and design fees in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Cox said the district is requesting about $787,000 to cover those fees and have everything in order to start work as soon as the borrowed monies become available.
In addition to the design monies, the district has requested $100,000 for technology replacement, $100,000 for an activity bus and $600,000 for annual life cycle maintenance and replacements.
The district also is requesting an increase to the county’s regular method of funding school capital needs, known as capital outlay. The school system is requesting the county increase the rate from $110 per student to $150 per student.
The increase would amount to about $37,000 in additional funds at the school’s average daily membership of 931 students.
Once other smaller capital projects are included, the district is requesting nearly $2 million in funding related to capital improvements in the upcoming fiscal year.
Later in the meeting, Commissioner Buck Golding shared his concerns regarding the requests of all three districts in the county, and the facilities studies driving the requests.
Three studies by school construction consultant Bill Powell called for $170 million in capital improvements throughout the county’s three school districts in 2014, a number which has risen with the cost of construction.
“To us, it (the Powell Study) is a guideline, not a Bible,” said Golding. “In no way can we afford to come up with those numbers.”
Golding said he would not be confident voters would pass a bond referendum to fund the capital needs, and he noted he would not be comfortable borrowing $200,000.
“The buck has to stop somewhere, and it stops with the people who pay the bills — the taxpayers,” said Golding.
“We are spending more than we are taking in,” Cox told county commissioners in voicing the district’s request to increase the supplemental property tax rate which helps fund the operations of the district.
That rate, which is assessed to all properties in Surry County served by the school district, is 12.2 cents per every $100 in value.
Cox said her board of education is asking county commissioners, who set the tax rate, to increase it to 14.5 cents for those who live in the Elkin school district. The move would create about $161,000 in additional revenue for the schools.
“How will the citizens react to an increase?” asked Commissioner Larry Johnson. “Are they going to go for it?”
Surry County Finance Officer Sarah Bowen indicated the owner of a property valued at $100,000 would see a $23 increase in his or her tax bill should commissioners approve the request.
While Cox indicated there was a “huge amount of community support” for such an increase, Commissioner Larry Phillips questioned the timing of the request.
Phillips has been lobbying to have lawmakers in Raleigh loosen how counties may use an Article 43 sales tax of up to a half penny. Should the General Assembly pass the bill for which Phillips has lobbied, counties could levy the tax for use on school capital projects.
However, it would require a vote of the people, and Phillips said a property-tax increase could blow an opportunity for officials to get the residents of the county on board with the sales-tax increase.
Commissioner Van Tucker asked Bowen how much, per every $100 in value, the combined tax rate for a resident living in the district would be, and Bowen calculated it would be about $1.14.
“That’s a pretty hefty burden,” said Tucker. “It’s almost twice as much as the average resident in the county pays.”
Additionally, the Elkin district has asked the county board for additional revenue, requesting its current expenses rate be increased from $1,115 per student to $1,175 per student.
With 931 students from Surry County in the district, such an increase would equate to $55,860 in additional county funds.
Cox said the district’s average daily membership has decreased. Thus, it would take an increase to $1,140 per student for the district to receive the same level of current expenses funding it received in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Elkin Schools finance officer Jan Zachary indicated the system used about $400,000 of its $1.5 million fund balance in June. It will use another $475,000 to balance its budget in the 2016-17 fiscal year.
Zachary said the use of those dollars will leave the district with about $650,000 in fund balance, enough dollars to cover about three months of expenses.
Phillips questioned when the district will see it fit to “dial it back,” citing decreases in student population and in state funding. He asked about a plan to do that.
Cox said that should gaps in funding remain, her district would have to look at cutting positions and programs and even increasing class sizes.
“We come to you with our wish list and understand you appropriate the funds,” responded Cox. “When we get that number (the amount of funding the county will provide), we will make it work.”
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.