By Michael Campbell, News Editor
SURRY – Following a unanimous vote Thursday, Surry supervisors completed their annual task of crafting the county’s budget for the next fiscal year, with the adopted budget providing the Surry Sheriff’s Office with a much-needed full-time detective.
While last Thursday’s action finished the budget building process, the county had already taken action on the FY2018 budget during a special meeting on Monday, May 15, where documents show supervisors met to discuss the then-proposed budget and agreed to provide Surry Schools with their local contribution for the upcoming financial year, totaling $12.2 million.
Their decision in mid-May allowed Surry Schools to move forward with their contractual obligations for retaining staff as the end of the school year approached, unencumbered by the county as they worked to fine tune the final budget product.
As a result of their action in May, supervisors only had to adopt the remaining $37.4 million of the FY2018 budget and approve the tax rate for the upcoming year.
In terms of the tax rate, no increases to taxes and fees were part of the FY2018 budget, meaning real estate tax, including mobile homes, will remain at 71-cents per $100 of assessed value, personal and business property taxes will stay at $4 per $100 of assessed value and passenger buses will be assessed at $3 per $100 of assessed value.
Machinery and tools taxes will remain at their current level of $1 per $100 of value under the adopted budget.
Additionally, the personal property tax relief percentage will decrease by one percentage point to 43 percent starting July 1.
While May’s public hearing saw residents and community leaders alike asking supervisors to consider funding for several different items, one specifically, a full-time detective within the Surry Sheriff’s Office, did find its place inside the county’s adopted budget.
According to Interim Finance Director Carol Swindell, the position, which will cost the county just over $55,000 for salary and benefits, is being funded in the FY2018 budget through use of contingency funds and roughly $16,000 that Sheriff Carlos Turner was able to identify within his department’s current-year budget to help offset the costs, resulting in the county spending just under $40,000 to pay for the first year of this position.
In her remarks, Swindell said the full-time detective position would be a county-funded job, adding that the Virginia Compensation Board would not be paying anything toward the position since it would be considered an “extra cost” toward the constitutional office.
“The state did not allocate any additional constitutional officer positions and, in order for them to do that, they would have to take one away from someone else,” Swindell explained, adding, based on the Virginia Compensation Board’s ratings, Surry would likely not be high on the list for consideration for another funded position.
Supervisors were also advised that this position would have to be funded in the future through county dollars, with Swindell noting the sheriff’s department budget sometimes is underspent, particularly in the fuel line item when fuel costs are low, which could result in future funds to offset the cost that position, but she did say that if fuel prices spike, there will be a need to increase the fuel line item back to previous levels.
In an interview, Turner was pleased with the board’s investment toward public safety in Surry and expects the new position to pay dividends once it’s filled.
“I think having this full-time detective will help us out tremendously as far as investigating cases that have sat unsolved and as far as the case load when it comes to freeing up deputies who were tied up on complex investigations,” Turner explained. “You will now have someone who will be trained in the things that come along with being an investigator.”
Even though funding for the position will become available on July 1 when the new financial year starts, Turner said he has already begun speaking to other agencies about the upcoming opening.
“I don’t think it will take us long to fill this position,” he said. “Hopefully, we find someone with some investigative experience, that way, it would be easier for both us and them with their transition into the position.”
As part of the funding, supervisors requested periodic updates from Turner on how the position is working out for the county once it is filled.
Aside from the addition of the county’s new detective position, the budget adopted last Thursday maintained much of its architecture from its initial presentation in April through the May public hearing.
While Dendron’s mayor, town council members, and residents all advocated for county funding to help the town repair is deteriorating sidewalks, the adopted budget did not see funding added for that project.
In terms of funding for outside agencies, the numbers remain relatively the same from their initial presentation in April, save $4,000 in funding being provided to the Crater Area Agency on Aging.
In April, the county’s presented budget saw three agencies who had received funding during the current fiscal year listed as receiving none in 2018, Crater Agency on Aging, Horizon Health Services and Habitat For Humanity, with Swindell and County Administrator Tyrone Franklin saying they had received no correspondences from the agencies requesting funding for the next financial year.
During the May public hearing, Surry Board Vice-Chair Michael Drewry said he had conversations with representatives from the Crater AAA and Horizon Health Services and they were in the process of sending funding requests for FY2018.
As of Thursday, only Crater AAA was the only one of the three mentioned as being added to the now adopted budget.
When asked about the other two agencies and their funding status, Franklin said, if either Horizon Health Services of Habitat for Humanity were to request funding during the next financial year, it would come from the county’s contingency fund.
In the current-year budget, the three agencies received a combined $9,700.
Additionally, the Crater AAA’s approved local funding of $4,000 from Surry is double the amount provided by the county in FY2016 and FY2017, which totaled $2,000 each of those years, according to county documents.
The remainder of the county’s outside agency spending was either level-funded or provided a modest increase, with Franklin explaining that the rationale for the county’s funding to outside agencies was determined “by request and need rather than recommending the same increase for each agency,” stressing that no new agencies were funded in his proposed budget.
The county’s now-adopted budget also features “significant” changes to Surry’s local appropriation from the county’s General Fund to the Social Services Fund, which features a reduction in funding to the tune of over $206,000.
In county documents, County Administrator Franklin explains that the reduction and funding recommendation of $550,000 is based on a “historical analysis of actual funds transferred to the [Social Services] Fund,” adding that the funding recommendation was “consistent with the average local appropriation of 32 to 33 percent” based on previous fiscal periods dating back to the 2013 financial year.
The Department of Social Services had requested $756,258 in local funding for FY2018, with the approved $550,000 representing a 27 percent departure from what the agency had asked for.
As part of the board’s adoption of the budget, they also approved the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for the upcoming fiscal year, which totals $8.9 million and features funding for a number of key projects.
The largest of the projects is the planned expansion and upgrade of Dendron’s utility system, which carries a price tag of $4.1 million.
According to county documents, Dendron’s water system was constructed in the 1970s and upgraded in the 1980s, consisting of two wells, a storage and pumping facility, and distribution system that services over 150 customers.
The entirety of the project is being funded through the issuance of long-term debt, with $2 million of project costs included in a 2014 debt issuance through the Virginia Resources Authority and another $2.78 million in new debt in the upcoming fiscal year to “fund additional expansion, including the construction of an elevated storage tank.”
The planned construction of Surry’s volunteer rescue squad building in the county’s industrial park will also be funded in FY2018 as $1.48 million in funding from the 2014 debt issuance from the VRA is utilized to move forward on the project.
The total project cost of $3.2 million will be funded through the 2019 financial year and the county says the remaining costs being funded through “long-term debt and potential contributions from Dominion Virginia Power.”
Over $935,000 in local funding has been earmarked for CIP spending in FY2018, ranging from the purchase of a sanitation truck, school bus replacements, technology improvements, vehicle and equipment replacements, security and lighting improvements, and work on the health department’s roof, among others.
The ongoing marina project will see grant dollars of over $1.5 million utilized toward it in FY2018, with another $910,394 in possible new debt going toward the project, but county officials said that figure is not finalized.
The new budget will take effect in less than thirty days with the new financial year starting on July 1.