The newest addition to the Surry County Board of Commissioners formally took his post Monday evening and immediately faced a $225,000 decision.
Commissioner Larry Johnson, 64, who will fill the unexpired term of Mount Airy District Commissioner Jimmy Miller before assuming the full term to which he was elected, was sworn into office by Superior Court Judge A. Moses Massey at the county board’s meeting at Elkin High School.
“This board is adding another person of great character and integrity to the board,” said Massey, who attends church with Johnson.
Johnson was appointed to fill the remainder of Miller’s term at a budget workshop last week. Miller’s resignation was effective on March 31.
He had beaten Miller and three others in the Republican primary for the post and faces no opposition in the general election in November.
Almost immediately after signing his oath of office, Johnson and fellow commissioners were hit with large funding requests from county government officials.
Parks and Recreation Director Daniel White came before commissioners asking for the authority to apply for two grants — a N.C. Clean Water Management grant and a Parks and Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF) grant.
White explained $225,000 would be needed to match the funds associated with the Clean Water grant, which would be used for a stream restoration at Fisher River Park. The Clean Water monies also could be used as a match and as leverage for attaining the PARTF grant, which would go toward general park projects such as a disk golf course and bathroom renovations.
“The budget impact is $75,000 for the next three years,” clarified County Manager Chris Knopf as conversation developed.
“There’s a major need for stream restoration,” said White, who added about 50 feet of property along the bank of the river had been lost as a result of erosion. A canoe access point also was lost when a flood recently occurred.
According to White, issues also could arise regarding water quality as a result of additional sediment in the river.
Commissioner Larry Phillips, who noted he’s not against restoring the stream, said he was concerned about the impacts on the budget and Surry County’s development of a long-term financial plan.
“We are fixing to make real moves in developing a long-term financial strategy,” explained Phillips. “My issue is with timing here.”
Phillips went on to say he’s concerned about getting the financial strategy “to a point of finality” while considering individual requests for funding both large and small.
“If this board is going to fix this, this is about as soft a budgetary impact as we are going to get,” countered Commissioner Eddie Harris. “There are huge looming questions, but I think for the short-term we are going to continually be forced to deal with matters like this.”
Harris went on to offer possible sales tax and property tax increases as matters the board may be forced to consider in the future.
Harris said the board has considered the stream restoration for the past four to five years, and he advocated to put the issue to bed.
“I think it’s tonight or never for this project,” said Harris, as he noted the county’s financial position is unlikely to change drastically in a positive direction throughout the course of the next few years.
Board Chairman Buck Golding shared Phillips budgetary concerns, along with others.
“That’s a lot of money one way or another,” said Golding. “It may work, and it may not. The river could just meander with the next flood. It’s not that urgent to fix this.”
Johnson noted the projects in whole should attract people to Surry County, and the Clean Water grant would position the county to gain “free money” from the PARTF grant.
“Naturally, it’s going to bring in more people,” said the board’s newest member.
In the end, Commissioner Van Tucker offered a motion to table White’s request.
“I love streams as much as anybody,” explained Tucker. “I’m kind of a get-out-and-touch-it person. Let’s take this up at our next earliest convenience.”
Thursday evening — likely after Tucker takes a trip to Fisher River Park — the board will hold a budget workshop, in which it may well continue consideration of White’s request.
As part of the county’s long-term financial strategy, commissioners asked for a report on the capital needs in county government.
At the behest of Facilities Director Don Mitchell, board members unanimously agreed to hire a company to perform the study. At a cost of nearly $50,000, the board opted to hire FacilityDude, a company based in Cary.
The company will perform an initial review of the county’s capital needs. However, Mitchell said the contract also will allow the county to use the company’s software, which includes a means of tracking work orders and scheduling maintenance.
Mitchell said the company comes with the best of reviews, noting he spoke with surrounding counties which use the company and Surry Community College.
“We have our own system of tracking those needs, but this is a much more enhanced system,” explained Mitchell. “I’ve gotten really good feedback from everybody I’ve talked to.”
The board recessed and will reconvene Thursday at 5 p.m. at the Surry County Government Center located at 118 Hamby Road in Dobson. That evening commissioners will hear the funding requests of the county’s three school systems, the community college and the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport Authority.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.