County holding ground on city request

By Andy Winemiller -

DOBSON — County commissioners still aren’t willing to hand over a county-owned property to the city of Mount Airy.

“If Graham Field is being used as a ball field and they want it used as a ball field, I can’t quite understand why it matters whether the city or the county owns it,” said Commissioner Van Tucker.

The issue of ownership of the field was once again before the Surry County Board of Commissioners at the board’s meeting Monday evening.

The seven-acre parcel of property lies across the street from the L.H. Jones Family Resource Center on Jones School Road in Mount Airy. A baseball field is located on the property, and the city has leased the property from the county for the past decade.

The Mount Airy Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in February asking the county board to transfer ownership of the field to the city. However, county commissioners balked at the request. Months later, a proposal which would have tied ownership of the field to a public water project to serve Shay Street and Kimberly Drive, which are located outside the city limits, was pulled from the county board’s agenda by Commissioner Larry Johnson, who had worked to broker a deal between the county and city.

Johnson has voiced his support for city ownership of the property.

The matter of the field was included on Monday’s agenda as part of an informational piece. Commissioners had asked county staff to research how much the town of Dobson paid the county for the parcel of property which is now Dobson Square Park.

Information included in the agenda packets of commissioners noted that 2.5-acre piece of property was sold to the town in 2013 for $125,000.

Johnson told commissioners a Mount Airy group, which included Scott Graham, for whom the field is named, has put much work into the field. That group would like to see the city own the field, and the city’s request for ownership of the property was prompted by the group.

“I’d like to see us decide this evening,” added Johnson.

In a prior meeting, commissioners also directed County Manager Chris Knopf to set up a meeting between city officials and the county board’s liaison committee, which consists of Johnson and fellow Mount Airy District Commissioner Larry Phillips.

“We tried to put the liaison committee on this and other matters,” said Tucker, alluding to the fact the city would not come to the table when the county wanted to renegotiate an interlocal agreement which sets up the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority.

“I don’t see how it would benefit the citizens of Surry County to give property to the city or any other municipality,” said Tucker.

In a subsequent interview, Tucker explained his remarks. The property, formerly part of the historically African-American Jones School, was purchased by the county using the tax dollars of all Surry County residents. Handing over the property to the city would not benefit Surry County taxpayers in Shoals, Lowgap or anywhere else in the county.

Phillips also noted his opposition to conveying the deed, specifically taking issue with the way the request from the city has been handled.

“This is not about a ball field. It’s about the type of local government we want to have,” said Phillips. “We can follow the process that’s in place for the citizens, or we can shoot from the hip.”

The board, ultimately, took no action regarding Graham Field.

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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