In February, the Surry County Board of Commissioners met in Elkin to begin mapping a plan for the fiscal year 2023 – 2024 budget. Some of the proposals were sent back to their respective departments for review or to provide more data. This week, more formal meetings between the commissioners and departments began with several more planning sessions to go before the final budget is voted on.
Emergency Management Director Eric Southern presented an increased budget from the present year — his department is facing challenges with increased cost of supplies, fuel, and a lack of medications that has “no rhyme or reason.”
He requested an increase to the training and travel budgets of Emergency Management and EMS so that the county can be ready to respond as needed. “What we identified was classes we need to attend. We support this area and state operations, and we have had people bring good knowledge back to the county.”
Southern says the county has a lot of equipment and it has gone through to bring it all up to date. Now the department has a master list and schedule to keep up with preventive maintenance which will save the county money.
“I’ll be honest when I met with the county about this, it’s a nice item to have but it’s an expensive item,” he said in requesting $39,000 for a new drone. He said he would be seeking grant assistance to which Commissioner Larry Johnson said he hoped grants would come through.
Surry County bought a drone eight or so years ago, Southern said, and it has aged out; they cannot get replacement parts for it. Chairman Eddie Harris asked if the drone would be surplused and sold to which Southern joked it could be given to the museum.
“If they’ll take it,” Harris replied.
With 16 new hires, Southern needs new uniforms and has requested funds for 16 bulletproof vests and tactical helmets. “Unfortunately, this has become a necessary piece of equipment we have to get.”
“What determines end of life for a bulletproof vest?” Harris asked. “This is one of the biggest rackets and scams, and I’ve been in county government for 12 years — it never ends. For a company to declare that something is antiquated or at end of life, I can’t figure out what for a piece of equipment ‘end of life’ means. I think it’s another way to extort the taxpayers.”
Southern’s presentation was his preliminary budget request of approximately $9.4 million, a number he said was higher than he initially wanted. With eight vacancies, he was told to add those salaries into next year’s budget in advance. “I was happy with the budget to begin with and then we had to add those back.”
His budget request for the present fiscal year was $8.2 million.
Jessica Montgomery is the county’s public works director and she spoke to the commissioners about some of the big-ticket items that stood out to her in planning next year’s budget and facilities issues that need attention.
She noted that the county communications and operations center needs new card readers. At the justice center in Dobson the building needs a new chiller, and she noted an estimated cost of $250,000. She said the existing chiller is as old as the building. “It is doing good knock-on wood, but we know it’s near the end, and it’s a big expense.”
“This is not something that sits on a shelf so you’re looking at, ordering it today, four to six months to get it on site. It’s not something you want to play with, we saw what happened with the sheriff’s office last year. We see what can go wrong and we got that unit in a lot faster than I thought we ever would.”
She is also contracting an architectural firm to look at the sheriff’s office building and the old section of jail to see how that space can be converted once the new jail opens. Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt and his team have been flexing in and out of space in the basement level of the judicial center and County Manager Chris Knopf said renovating the old section would give them more space.
The county service center needs all five sections replaced, Montgomery said, as years of piecemeal fixes have added up. The main section above the Board of Elections and Tax Office needs attention first at an estimated cost of $460,000 while the remaining sections will be addressed in future budgets and may cost another $250,000 at minimum.
She has requested a lift gate onto one of their trucks to help moving heavy equipment, a move Chairman Harris approved of. “That’s money well spent. It is a safety issue, and it is ten times over money well spent,” alluding to workers compensation claims for back injuries that may be prevented with the lift gate.
The Historic Courthouse in Dobson has been a long-term renovation project Knopf said. “It’s been a slow steady project, but when we get through this phase we should be in good shape for a couple of decades.”
Another $566,000 is needed for the next phase of weatherproofing, something Montgomery has repeatedly said the historic building needs badly. She also quoted $138,000 for a new full generator for that building and said the Service, Resource, and Judicial Center all have full generator backups.
At the county resource center in Mount Airy she is requesting $130,000 for parking lot paving, $50,000 for interior cosmetic upgrades, and a new window cling decal for the veterans’ office – much like the one at the Board of Elections office in Dobson – for $2,000.
For the landfill and recycling centers she has requested $20,000 for new trash containers and $50,000 for improvements to signage. “At each recycling center there are signs, and we just have a lot of words going everywhere. People don’t read signs, we find, they like to see images. It needs to be consistent when you’re at the Lowgap Center it should be the same as in Elkin.”
At the landfill she requested $328,000 for a new track hoe that is used to excavate dirt and another $40,000 to improve the quality of the asphalt roadway from the weigh station to the dump itself. Getting ahead of the road conditions now will save money later, “The last thing we want to do is mill up the whole road and redo it.”
She explained that PFAs, or “forever chemicals,” are driving up costs and there is no way around that. “PFAs are used in lots of industries. Basically, anything that’s waterproof or food packaging, like the McDonald’s wrapper that nothing sticks to, has PFAs in it.”
“Now, those can be traced and there are regulations to make sure landfills are monitoring for them in the groundwater. This is doubling the water monitoring budget and we can’t choose to do that, as of July 1 it’s a ‘have to’ by the state.”
Totals of the public works budget projection were not supplied.
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