Small tweaks up school funding, nix FD grant project

Last updated: June 16. 2014 9:01PM - 405 Views
By Keith Strange kstrange@civitasmedia.com

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DOBSON — On a split vote, the Surry County Board of Commissioners approved a $74,707,941 budget, but not before tweaking it slightly.

The action came following a public hearing which drew no comment from the public.

“I guess county staff did a pretty good job this year,” joked board Chair Eddie Harris. “I think we should go ahead and act on this.”

Next year’s budget, as proposed by county administrators, totals $74,707,941, a considerable increase from the current budget of $71,458,974.

It recommends that county maintain its current 58.2 cents per $100 in property value tax rate.

County Manager Chris Knopf and county Finance Director Betty Taylor attributed the nearly $3 million increase in his proposed budget to a balloon payment on a loan that will be due next year.

“We’ll have a payment on a $2.2 million loan we took out in 2001 for improvements to Tharrington and Copeland elementary schools,” Knopf said. “That payment will be due in June, so that accounts for a large part of the increase.”

County officials plan to repay the loan out of existing fund balance, where money to repay it has been sitting for years accruing interest.

The loan payment is also largely responsible for an increased fund balance allocation proposed in next year’s budget. Rather than raise taxes, the county will appropriate $7,686,236 out of its fund balance of $25.8 million. This year, the county allocated around $5.5 million from its unrestricted fund balance.

Taylor noted that after taking the loan payment out of the equation, which is sitting in the bank, the county will effectively appropriate $5,592,716.

“Once that is taken out, the appropriation from fund balance is similar to the current year,” she told the board.

Prior to approving the budget, the board agreed to up the county’s per-pupil allocation by $15 per student, bringing the total to $1,090 per student from the recommended $1,075.

The increase will bring an additional $172,965 to the county’s three school districts.

In addition, the board voted to do away with an annual payment of $25,000 to the town of Dobson, money the county has long paid in lieu of town taxes.

The board also, after a little discussion, agreed to nix a $150,000 special appropriation to the county’s volunteer fire departments which would have been set aside as an in-county grant to fund equipment purchases.

Instead, the county agreed to earmark $50,000 for the Bannertown Volunteer Fire Department to help with moving expenses as a result of the relocation of Holly Springs Road.

Commissioner Larry Phillips, who recommended the initiative, said he understood the county simply couldn’t afford the allocation.

“We’re trying to get school administrator’s some of their money back,” he said. “It just becomes a question of how much we can do. It’s priorities.”

The board also agreed to fund payments on the county school system’s mobile classrooms ($45,173), and pay the costs associated with inspecting the district’s four underground fuel storage tanks ($17,350).

The move comes following an impassioned plea by county school Superintendent Dr. Travis Reeves last week during a budget work session.

The county’s proposed budget included a $50 per-student capital outlay allocation and a $40 per student technology outlay, but Reeves noted the county previously funded the capital outlay at $100 per student.

During the work session, he urged the board to take another look at the budget and include special line items for the mobile classroom payments and fuel tank inspections, money that has been coming out of the $50 per student line item.

“When you take those items off the top, we actually end up with $42.51 per student,” he said.

“We respectfully request that you at least consider a separate line item for the mobile classrooms and the tank inspections,” Reeves said. “It kind of handicaps us when we’ve gone from $100 a kid to $50 a kid and then we’re taking $8 off the top.”

Board members also agreed to fund a request by the Northwest Regional Library system for $12,795. The money will be used to help fund pay increases for the system’s employees.

Next year’s budget also includes an allocation of $1,918,275 to address roofing needs at Elkin Elementary, Tharrington Primary, North Surry High and Flat Rock Elementary schools, and an allocation of $440,000 to continue a project to replace HVAC equipment on the main campus of Surry Community College.

It also allocates $546,856 to fund two replacement ambulances, a light rescue vehicle, four new patrol cars for middle school resource officers, five patrol car replacements, an emergency transfer vehicle and cameras for patrol cars in the county.

One commissioner, however, was not happy the budget includes $240,100 for preliminary work on the Interstates Sewer Project that will bring infrastructure to the Interstates district on Pine Street.

“I’ll be voting against the budget because it has money in there for the Interstates system, and I can’t, in good conscience, fund something that I voted against in the first place,” said Commissioner R.F. “Buck” Golding.

In the end, the budget passed 4-1 on a motion by Commissioner Paul Johnson with a second by Commissioner Jimmy Miller. Golding opposed the motion.

Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.

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