PILOT MOUNTAIN — A capacity crowd turned out to hear County Manager Chris Knopf report on “The State of Surry County” to community leaders on Thursday.
The Mount Airy Chamber of Commerce continued its popular Lunch with Leaders series with a lunch meeting at Pilot Knob Park Country Club with Knopf as keynote speaker.
“This is a high-demand event,” Randy Collins, chamber president and CEO, said before Knopf spoke. “We cut off the marketing a week ago when we literally sold out this event. This is the biggest demand we’ve had.”
Collins went on to explain why the Greater Mount Airy Chamber was holding an event in Pilot Mountain.
“Focus on the word ‘greater’,” he said of the chamber’s reach beyond Mount Airy.
When he got up to speak, Knopf jumped right into a talk heavy on facts, statistics, numbers and details of where Surry County is today, where it has been, and where he sees it going, assisted by a PowerPoint presentation.
According to the info presented, Surry County ranks 37th out of 100 N.C. counties in population at 73,748; 74th with a property tax rate of 58.2 cents per $100 valued property; 17th in farmland with 126,897 acres; 50th in average income per capita, $35,563; and has an average weekly wage of $714.
Knopf said county budget was just under $80 million dollars in 2008-09. Following the great recession, the budget dropped to $70.5 million in 2012-13, and has since crept up to $78.6 million for this fiscal year.
County savings dipped after the recession when savings were used to invest in school projects. Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s downgraded the county’s credit rating during that period — which affected interest rates charged on debt — but Knopf pointed out that those ratings recently rebounded.
Of the county’s $37,173,404 in savings, Knopf said only $8.83 million is unassigned. The rest is committed or earmarked to specific projects and must only be spent for those specific uses.
“Sales tax revenues have been increasing while property tax revenues have seen modest growth. Portions of the sales tax are restricted to public schools capital,” said Knopf.
Knopf said that that the one-quarter-percent sales tax increase approved by Surry County voters in 2007 by just 27 votes generated $2 million dollars last year. For comparison, each cent on the property tax rate generates only $500,000.
Knopf explained to the group that sales taxes are also paid by non-residents, including tourists who visit the county. Mount Airy’s position as a regional commerce hub with shoppers from Virginia and other counties, as well as Elkin businesses which attract customers from Yadkin and Wilkes County, helps bump up that revenue.
“Sales tax is our saving grace,” he said when explaining how the county tax rate had remained set at 58.2 cents for more than a decade.
Among recent organizational changes, the Sheriff’s Department has assumed responsibility for animal control from the Health Department.
“Sometimes, the owner of dangerous animals are just as dangerous as the animals,” he said.
Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.