Surry County Manager Chris Knopf gave a summary at the meeting of the Board of County Commissioners held Monday regarding the proposed county budget, after a series of meetings and roundtable discussion with the department heads about what their needs for the next budget year are.
He said that county department heads were instructed to review the public service needs of county citizens served by their programs and “request adequate resources to deliver those services.”
The county gives funding priorityto debt service, public safety, education, and the county’s share of costs for public health and social services. The departments were instructed to request operational expenses as it relates to capital items but only for essential operations or priority projects.
He said that each department’s submissions were “reviewed and reduced where it was believed reductions could be made.”
“My goal is to recommend a budget that should enable the delivery of public services without significant hardship,” the county manager said.
To fund those services Knopf has recommended there be no change to the property tax rate that will stay at 55.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. His projected total budget for fiscal year 2023-24 is $98,446,159, an increase of approximately 5% from the current budget.
He reported that there is a projected $6.4 million increase in tax revenue over the current year, a large portion of which is still from increased sales tax from online shopping. “We continue in our forecasting and estimation to catch up from the COVID bump we received, and not the COVID decline that we expected in 2021,” he explained.
“I believe by next year we will have more modest gains in these (revenue) areas, but both remain strong, and our citizens continue to pay their taxes at an impressive rates.”
Over successive budget meetings, the board heard from superintendents, representatives from law enforcement agencies, and first responders that inflation is creating a pinch in their budgets.
Nearly every department reported that inflation is creating upward pressure on the cost of doing business, even the rote aspects of office work cost more. For those departments with a fleet of vehicles, the cost of maintenance and fuel for those is a continuing cause of concern.
“The thing that sort of rises above even all those (funding priorities) is inflation. There was some inflationary growth in the current year’s budget and that will continue next year as well,” he said.
During his snapshot Knopf brought to the board’s attention some proposed areas of increased funding including a 5% cost of living adjustment for county employees on the step grade classification plan.
On wages, in the sheriff’s office budget is found a “not to exceed” amount of $1.14 million allocated to implement the findings of a public safety wage recommendation study after it was found the base rate of pay for county deputies and detention offices was below regional averages.
Renovations at Fisher River Park, the judicial building, the historic Dobson courthouse, and the Surry County Resource Center in Mount Airy will account for an additional $1.35 million in the budget. Some of these repairs, like those at the historic courthouse, are badly needed and time sensitive before a lack of adequate weatherproofing causes further damage.
The new detention center is set to come into service this year and Knopf said $1.35 million in additional debt service has been factored in; the first principal payment is due soon he said.
Surry County’s costs of operations for the Department of Social Services will rise an anticipated 8.45%. A large part of this cost will be from pandemic restrictions ending, meaning that thousands of Medicaid recipients will need to be re-certified after a period in which the federal government extended those benefits indefinitely. Outgoing Interim Chair Wayne Black said the department will need more staff and training to get this accomplished.
The budget for emergency services rose 14% due to an error in the presentation of the current year’s budget. Several vacant positions were mistakenly eliminated from the current budget and have been added back to the FY 2023-24 budget.
Knopf advised that his presentation was just a recommendation and that the budget has not yet been finalized.
Residents are advised there will be a public hearing on the budget proposal at the board’s next meeting to be held on Monday, June 19, at 6 p.m. at the Historic Courthouse.
Knopf also advised the fiscal year 2023-2024 recommended budget is available for public inspection at the Historic Courthouse, 114 W. Atkins St., in Dobson. The new budget must be finalized and approved prior to the first day of the fiscal year on July 1.
In other board of commissioners news,
– Bids for the renovation of the Health and Nutrition Center were received from JG Coram Company Inc., Hayco Construction LLC, and Omega Construction and all bids came in under the projected total budget of $2.2 million for the project.
Knopf said that a review committee was not needed as all three bidders were vetted and met requirements for “responsibleness and responsiveness.” As per state statutes, if all bidders meet those two criteria, then the county must go with the lowest bid.
JG Coram Company Inc. had the low bid of $2,035,000 and was awarded the contract for renovations of the Health and Nutrition Center. All three bids were within $63,000 of one another.
“We have great confidence going into this project that we’re very close to what its actually going to cost,” Knopf told the board.
– The board was busy with appointments to various committees, including The Scenic Byway Overlay Steering Committee to which Dean Gravley, David Haymore, Justin McKinney, Glenn Pruitt, and Ralph Smith were named to serve.
Sydney Bedsaul Romine was named to a three-year term for the ETJ seat on the Dobson Planning Board; Robin Narehood was named the alternate.
Mark Furhmann was appointed to a seat on the Partners Behavioral Health Management Board of Directors for a three-year term replacing Robin Testerman Beeson.
Two members of the Surry Aging Planning Committee were reappointed for another term. Tom Bachmann and Carmen Long will be joined by county parks employee Bradley Key who has been appointed to the committee.
Preston Cave, Mark Johnson, and Travis Love were each reappointed to three-year terms on the Agricultural Advisory Bord (Voluntary Agriculture District).
On the Dobson Community Library Board, Jeanette Hamlin, Debbie Wilmoth, and Jonathan Bledsoe were each approved to serve another two-year term.
On the Piedmont Triad Regional Council Workforce Development Board Josh East was reappointed for a new two-year term. The board appointed Emily Venable-Schiff to a vacant seat on the board meant for a county representative or a member of private industry for which the board felt she was more than qualified.
The board reappointed Joseph Mickey, Scott Reynolds, and Mark Tucker to two-year terms on Surry County Recreational Advisory Committee.
At a following meeting the board will name a replacement to the Board of Equalization and Review to replace Terry Kennedy who moved to the Planning Board.