County: Projects won’t raise taxes

By Jeff Linville -

DOBSON — Surry County’s finances are in good shape and capable of taking on some massive debt over the next year and a half.

That’s the consensus of the county government after hearing the results of an annual audit from Marcie Spivey, Martin Starnes and Associates.

“It was a very good audit,” said Eddie Harris, chairman of the Surry County Board of Commissioners.

“Finances are stable and strong, revenues are strong,” he said. “The financial situation is something to be very proud of. We’ve done that without having to raise taxes.”

Rather than overestimate how much revenue the county would bring in, Harris said the staff’s revenue forecasts and funding models over the past two years have been conservative, and actual results have been a little better than anticipated.

With two recent bids also coming in under estimates, the county board feels good about doing some needed renovations for county buildings and schools.

At the same meeting Tuesday where the annual audit was presented, the commissioners held a public hearing on bond issuance for upcoming projects. The board is expected to pass a motion to approve the debt at its February meeting.

Through these bonds, the county will “borrow” up to $40 million, which most of that money going toward the three school systems’ needs.

Sarah Bowen, county finance officer, explained last week that the first phase consists of borrowing $8.2 million to be paid back over 20 years. The total payout on this debt will likely be about $10.5 million.

This issuance will cover renovations of the former Lowes Food grocery store in Dobson Plaza, the historic courthouse in Dobson, renovating the former Pike building into a Mount Airy City Schools headquarters, planning for major renovations at three county elementary schools, and planning and designs to renovate the gym at Elkin High School.

Almost half of this first issuance will go toward the county’s own needs. The other half and all of next year’s issuance (in the neighborhood of $28 million, plus contingency funds) will go to school needs.

The county recently received a bid of $1.8 million for work on Dobson Plaza and $1.7 million for the courthouse. The board also chose to set aside another $175,000 in contingency funds for those projects.

Next year, Elkin’s high school gym renovation is estimated at $7.8 million. Work at Mountain Park Elementary could run $7.5 million, and Dobson and Franklin elementary schools could cost another $6 million each.

• Speaking of county revenues, Harris said the county is making progress on hiring a new tax administrator, a position that has been vacant since Michael Hartgrove left last year. Penny Harrison has been filling in as interim tax administrator in recent months.

Harris said the position was advertised in the fall, and eight qualified applicants applied. Next comes the interview process.

• Dick Everhart, of Resource Institute, spoke to the county about Mount Airy’s greenway project.

Everhart is well known in the county, said Harris. He retired as district conservationist for Surry County for the Natural Resources Conservation Service at the end of 2009.

Everhart explained that the next stretch of planned expansion of the city’s greenway bike paths will take it along property the county owns on Linville Road — part of a past flood-control project, Harris noted.

The board believes the greenways are good for the city and county, Harris said, and it was quick to vote in favor of granting easements to the city to add a bike path through the property.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.