Board eyes Elkin development

By Jeff Linville -

DOBSON — While some county budget issues are still pending, commissioners did seem to agree on some points during a work session Thursday evening.

Possible tax increases for fire and school districts will have to wait until after Monday’s public hearings.

Other areas got a thumb’s up from all or a majority of the Board of Commissioners, including funding economic development in Elkin.

Early in Thursday’s meeting was an explanation from County Manager Chris Knopf about how his proposed budget would take almost $8 million out of reserves to balance the budget.

It’s really a wash, and the county isn’t expected to need any money out of reserves, he said.

First off, $1.6 million of that is money set aside for the Pike Electric building that is being converted into a central office for Mount Airy City Schools, he explained. This fund is already earmarked and can’t be used for anything else.

The other $6.29 million is just an accounting procedure necessary because of monies that haven’t come in yet.

A lot of counties don’t plan on collecting property taxes at a high rate, he told the board. They may budget on the idea of getting 95 percent paid on time. Surry did that for a while, but the average rate is so much higher that a while back the standard number was raised to 97 percent.

Even still, Finance Director Sarah Bowen added, Surry County actually collects more than 99 percent in the average year. So there is a 2-percent cushion between the estimated revenue and what will likely be received.

Sales tax revenue also is generally a conservative estimate, said Knopf. Once both taxes and other revenue streams are in, the numbers will go up. Also, he said the department heads are pretty frugal and tend not to spend their entire budgets. What they have left over will lower that figure, too.

The way he sees it, anything less than $6 million coming from reserves on paper is a wash.

So $6.29 million could be close.

Elkin project

One of the first things the board did Thursday was move one project’s funding to a different source, which freed up $250,000 from the general budget, which would have been nearly enough to get the budget down to that theoretical $6 million mark. However, before the night was over, almost all of that money was designated for other needs.

Commissioner Larry Phillips has long supported the idea of a shell building for Elkin on a site just north of Pittsburgh Glass Works.

For the sake of Dr. Gary Tilley, who was appointed to the board earlier this year, Chairman Eddie Harris explained that the idea is that both the city of Elkin and the county put up $250,000, with the developer funding the rest. When the building is done, and the property is eventually sold, the county will get its $250,000 back, there will be new jobs, and there will be added tax base.

The last time the county did a shell building project was in Mount Airy’s Piedmont Triad West Corporate Park near the intersection of U.S. 601 and I-74. Knopf said he wasn’t here then, but he believed it took three or three and a half years before the Harvest Bread Company moved in.

Phillips said he would be fine with having to wait a few years for the return on investment it would bring.

“It’s the cleanest, straight-up deal I’ve seen,” said Phillips. He said he doesn’t think it will take that long, either, since Todd Tucker, of the Surry County Economic Development Partnership, told him he has been getting calls from potential clients about ready locations.

Commissioner Larry Johnson said he is in favor of the building, but doesn’t want to raise taxes to do it. What about the economic development fund?

Bowen said sharing the cost of this building from that fund would be really tight, but she thinks the county could pull it off.

Harris said that if the county ever sells the Fibrowatt property, then the money from that should be used to replenish the economic development fund.

“We still have that?” asked a surprised Tilley, referring to land in Elkin that in 2009-10 was considered for a poultry waste incinerator until public outcry turned officials against the idea.

Commissioner Van Tucker said he isn’t generally in favor of the philosophy of setting up shell buildings; if they were such a great idea, private investors would be installing them all over the country. However, he does like the idea of boosting the tax base, as well as creating new jobs.

Still, Tucker said he recently paid a visit to Pittsburgh Glass Works and found that the buiness is thriving right now and has added a couple of new lines. The company has enough work to expand, but may be concerned that there aren’t enough qualified applicants to fill a bunch of new technical positions, he added.

Before pulling the trigger on erecting some new structure, maybe the county and the EDP should have some conversations with Pittsburgh Glass Works about a possible expansion, he suggested. The county might not need to do a shell building if Pittsburgh wants it, or if it does, maybe the company will want a shell building done a certain way.

Just because the board sets some money aside for a possible shell building doesn’t mean it has to be spent, noted Knopf.

After further talk, the board agreed to reach out to Pittsburgh Glass Works, but also to put aside $250,000 from the economic development fund in case the shell building project goes forward.

By Jeff Linville

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.

Reach Jeff at 415-4692.