Name: Eddie Harris
Hometown: State Road
Family: Wife Robbin, Children: Mary Gwyn Harris Ratley, Victoria Harris Cox
Education: Surry Community College and Appalachian State University
Work Activity: Silversmith/hand engraver, Harris Leather and Silverworks. www.harrisleather.com
Civic/Church Activity: Pleasant Hill Baptist Church
1. What are some of the key funding needs in Surry County, in your opinion, and how would you address those?
Our County has significant funding needs that must be addressed. Those include renovations to the historic courthouse, as well as the relocation of the Agricultural Extension Service, Farm Service Agency, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Rural Development, Surry Soil and Water, the Tax Department, and the Board of Elections, all to the former Just Save shopping center, which is now known as The Surry County Service Center. Also significant, are the school projects at Elkin High School, Mountain Park, Franklin and Dobson Elementary schools, as well as projects for the Mount Airy City Schools. The County is also facing a major jail expansion as we are spending upwards of 1 million per year housing inmates in other counties. Your BOCC has divided the county’s financial model and budget into two components: Operational and Capital. Our dedicated capital improvement fund allows more transparency in funding our new and existing capital needs. These include county operations and services as well as the public schools. Separating these allows for more clarity in the budgeting process. The BOCC hired what I consider to be the premier financial analysts in the state, DEC Associates, to help us develop a long term financial model that properly reflects our revenues, expenses and long term debt, to address these projects. Projections in these models reflect a very conservative posture should the County’s revenue streams be adversely affected by external economic factors beyond our control. County sales tax revenues have been increasing as the property tax base has shown modest increases. A quarter of a cent on the sales tax in Surry generates two million dollars, and comparatively, in Wilkes County, it generates 500K. I continue to believe the fairest tax is the sales tax, and it has demonstrably shown that Surry County is a substantial trading center. Without the extra quarter cent passed in 2007- by 27 votes-property owners certainly would have faced a tax increase.
2. Funding for education continues to be hit at the state and federal level. How should the county make up for those losses to ensure quality teachers are retained and recruited and facility needs are met?
I have worked with our three school systems in a fair and equitable manner, and I support having the three autonomous school systems in the County. At the height of the financial crisis, we were forced to trim our per-pupil allocation of $1,125 to $1,060, to get ahead of the financial shortfall then facing the County. The allocation currently stands at $1,175 per pupil. So, we have surpassed the pre-financial panic numbers. As I stated in my previous response, we have developed a funding model that is adequately addressing the capital needs of our schools. As board chairman I meet with our school superintendents, frequently, to assess their needs. We have a positive working relationship. Mount Airy City Schools and Elkin City Schools have supplemental school taxes, authorized by the Districts’ taxpayers, some years ago. The Elkin City Schools supplemental tax is 13.2 cents, translating to 962K. The Mount Airy City Schools supplemental tax is 11cents, translating to 800K. The supplemental revenues are over and above the per-pupil allocation funded by County taxpayers. This puts the Surry County System at somewhat of a disadvantage in funding. Of course, the SCS could always ask the BOCC for a ballot initiative to supplement their funding as well. Appropriately, voters in the District, would have the final say in the matter. It would take a 2.4 cent tax levy in the county district to approximate the same total revenues as the respective city districts. I am not aware of a teacher retention problem in Surry County. The BOCC appropriated 200K for this fiscal year, and 180K in the 2017 Budget, as discretionary monies for the Surry County School system, in part, because the county system did not have a special tax district. The County School Board chose to use these monies on teacher pay supplements. These monies are not recurring and are at the discretion of the BOCC during the budget cycle. Additionally, we have appropriately funded costly security needs in all of the schools.
3. How will you address continued needs for higher paying jobs in Surry and ensuring qualified candidates who can pass background and drug tests are available for employers?
As a commissioner, my role is to make Surry County an attractive place to which companies will locate and invest, with the hope that this will lead to higher paying jobs. There is no panacea for economic development. This involves many different components of a complicated equation that is also affected by external economic factors and considerations. The unemployment rate in Surry County is now below 4%, surpassing the federal definition of “full employment”, at 5%. In attracting higher paying jobs, the work force has to have the skills, education and work ethic, to attract companies to locate here. The work ethic part starts at home. Our schools, and the Community College, also play an important role in this process. I serve on the Surry Community College Board of Trustees, and we have focused heavily on career and technical education, and have ranked 1st in the State, for working with businesses and industries. This involves getting students the training they require, to be successful in the work force, and earn higher pay. I believe our young people are reaping the benefits of this effort. Tradesmen, Craftsmen, and skilled workers, are enjoying the benefits of a strong economy and are in great demand. I hope our schools, at all levels, continue this focus on learning a skilled trade. I pledge to continue working with them. I was involved in the recruitment of PGW in Elkin, as well as other companies, to the County. The County is also partnering with Elkin, on a shell building, in a first-of-its-kind project. We are also committing significant resources in fighting the drug crisis in our County. This affects our workforce, families, and economic development. This Initiative involves prevention, treatment and recovery. We simply have to do our very best in helping our citizens with addiction issues.
Thank you for the opportunity and privilege to serve you. You have entrusted me with this office, and know that I represent all citizens, equally, be they Democrats, Republicans, or Independents. I approach it with a sense of fairness to all. My service to you has been rewarding for me, and I proudly represent Surry County. I currently serve you, as, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, chairman of the Surry County/Mount Airy Airport Authority, chairman of the Social Services Board, chairman of YVEDDI, a member of the Agricultural Extension Board, a member of the Surry County Litter Committee, a member of the Surry Community College Board of Trustees, and on the Property and Finance Committees of the County. I have never lost site of the taxpayers, and working men and women, who seldom complain about anything, and want little more than a good job and a safe decent place to raise their families, without being taxed to death. I stand with the forgotten American, who has been betrayed by globalism and politicians that put political correctness and open borders ahead of the rule of law and freedom of speech. Please know that I will never forget you. I humbly ask for your continued support in this election. God bless America! With warmest regards, I remain your humble commissioner.