Board favors funding for EMS, sheriff’s office

By Jeff Linville -

The Surry County Board of Commissioners seemed to be in favor a recommendation by County Manager Chris Knopf to add some spending to both EMS services and the sheriff’s office.

Knopf handed out a graph that showed 911 calls for EMS by the hour of the day for the year 2016. From 2 a.m. to 7 a.m. the calls per hour range from 289 to 357. Then when people start getting up and moving around is when more problems occur.

At 7 a.m. the calls jump to 563, then 610, 662, and 791 by 10 a.m.

The 2017 numbers were slightly higher across the board, but follow a similar shape, seeing calls jump at 10 a.m. and stay that way until almost midnight.

As a result, the county manager recommended of adding a Medic 7 team to the EMS for peak hours at an expected cost of $192,420.

Typically, EMS crews in the county work a full 24-hour shift, but John Shelton, emergency services director, is talking about using this team from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. — where calls average more than 800 per hour.

The budget from Knopf includes $1.2 million related to the sheriff’s office and jail.

During a meeting earlier in the month, he recommended replacing six patrol cars with new models and hiring new employees.

“Several significant personnel recommendations are included in the proposed budget for public safety and security,” he told the board. “The creation of three new deputy positions ($295,474) is recommended as well as four new detention officers and two transportation officers ($208,936).”

Knopf explained that proposed regulation changes coming from the state would affect staffing at the jail as soon as November, which is the reason for the four detention officers.

Overcrowding at the jail is a growing problem. Surry is having to ship more and more inmates to other counties to be housed, and the drive time alone can be more than three hours round-trip. Until the expansion of the jail is done, there will be a heavy need for workers to drive inmates back and forth, so Knopf recommends adding two transportation officers, rather than tying up deputies’ time.

The commissioners seemed in general agreement on this.

In other budget items:

• The county likely will be raising the landfill convenience fee by $3 to offset the rising cost of handling special items like electronics.

• Knopf said this is the third year of a five-year plan to steadily raise the water/sewer rates for the areas of Flat Rock/Bannertown and Elkin/Gentry Road, which will be 7 percent for both locations.

• During a discussion of funding outside agencies, Dr. Gary Tilley, the newest commissioner, asked if this is where funding for the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport was placed.

Knopf said yes and added that although it is supposedly co-owned with the city, Mount Airy hasn’t provided any funding in a decade.

Some folks have asked why the county even bothers to keep it running, he said, but keep in mind that when the county accepted federal grant money for the runway expansion, it came with a requirement that the airport stay open a full 30 years more.

By Jeff Linville