DOBSON — County commissioners narrowly passed a budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year.
“Three beats two every time,” said Commissioner Van Tucker as he announced his support for a budget compromise crafted by Surry County Board of Commissioners Chairman Eddie Harris.
Three did, indeed, beat two, as Tucker, Harris and Commissioner Larry Johnson voted in favor of the revised $77.2 million budget. Commissioners Larry Phillips and Buck Golding cast no votes on the compromise at Monday’s meeting of the county board.
“I have to look at the whole picture,” said Golding, noting the county has 15 departments to fund and three public school systems.
Golding went on to say that he wasn’t sure future budgets would be able to shoulder the weight of Harris’ increases.
Education funding was a chief concern of the county board. County Manager Chris Knopf’s recommended budget did not include an increase in current expenses funding for the Surry County Schools, Mount Airy City Schools and Elkin City Schools.
Current expenses is a per-pupil allocation earmarked for operating expenses. Commissioners funded an increase in current expenses in the 2016-17 fiscal year, moving the allotment to $1,115 per student, up from $1,090 the year before. School officials from all three districts had asked the county board to consider increasing the amount to $1,175 in the 2017-18 fiscal year.
Harris’ budget compromise included a smaller increase to $1,140 per student. It also included a non-recurring $150,000 allocation to the Surry County Schools.
The compromise also included an increase in the supplemental property taxes which help fund the Mount Airy and Elkin districts. The compromise includes increases of one penny per every $100 in property value for all those who own property in the two districts.
Dr. Richard Brinegar, the chair of the Elkin City Schools School Board, urged commissioners to include a larger increase to his district’s supplemental tax rate. He told the members of the county board that the community was behind the increase, citing the level of support at a town hall meeting held on the matter.
“We are only asking you to allow Elkin residents to spend their own money the way they want to,” said Brinegar after noting the increase only affects those residents who live in the district.
The Elkin district had requested a 2.3-cent increase, and the Mount Airy district had requested a 2-cent increase.
In voicing his dissent to the compromise Harris crafted, Phillips said he would have supported the current expenses increase to $1,140 per student if not for the tax increases and the $150,000 supplemental allocation to the county district.
Phillips has worked with state legislators to push a bill through the N.C. General Assembly which could free up sales tax revenues for use in funding public education.
He said a version of the bill passed the N.C. House of Representatives with only nine dissenting votes. It could create an additional $4 million in school funding in Surry County. That stated, if the bill passes, such a move could require a vote of the people to enact the half-cent sales tax for education use.
The commissioner said he’s worried a future sales tax referendum could die before voters who just had their property taxes increased for education funding.
The budget compromise passed on Monday also included an increase of about $72,000 over what Knopf had included in his proposed budget for county personnel expenses.
Knopf’s budget had been a nearly $77 million budget. However, it included a balloon payment of about $2 million on school debt. Without that payment, for which the county had already set money aside, the budget would have been an increase of less than one percent over the 2016-17 fiscal year’s budget.
Harris’ compromise, disregarding the balloon payment, is a 1.1-percent increase over the prior year’s budget.
To come up with the extra money to fund the school increases and the personnel expenditures, Harris had to make some cuts elsewhere in the proposed budget.
The compromise reduces the salary contingency line item by about $30,000 and the Surry County Board of Elections’ contingency fund by nearly $89,000. An appropriation of $20,000 to help fund the operations of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History was cut entirely from the budget, and $53,942 of the proposed $133,667 transfer to the county’s newest enterprise fund — the Mount Airy-Surry County Airport — was cut from the allocation.
The new budget also increased revenue projections by $150,000.
“It is what it is,” said Johnson, who noted no commissioner was pleased in whole by the outcome.
Harris said it’s never an easy task to come up with a budget that a majority on his board can support. However, even though two commissioners voted against the budget, the budget which will be in place on July 1 has each members’ fingerprints on it.
“I tried to balance everybody’s concerns for the public good,” said Harris. “All we can do is the best we can for the most people we can.”
Additional coverage of Surry County’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget will appear in a future edition of The Mount Airy News.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.