Surry wants annual county payments

Published 12:57 pm Wednesday, March 29, 2017

By Ryan Kushner

Staff writer

SURRY—The town of Surry wants annual payments of $200,000 from the county in exchange for transferring its sewer systems to the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

In a letter sent to the Surry County Board of Supervisors Thursday, March 23, Surry Mayor Will Gwaltney lists the town’s “conditions of agreement,” provisions that were first alluded to publically by the Surry Town Council when it unanimously agreed to approve the transfer to HRSD, provided the then-undisclosed agreements were met by the county.

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There is no indication in Gwaltney’s letter as to why the town expects an annual $200,000 from the county, or what it will do with it.

Council member Robert Berryman said he had no comments “for whatever you’re asking” when called Monday by The Smithfield Times. 

The Smithfield Times met up with Gwaltney in his yard on Monday afternoon. He said the Town Council wrote the letter and it was done “several weeks ago.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

 “I’m sure it’s been voted on,” Gwaltney said, adding that his job on the council is that of “referee” and to sign documents, such as the letter to the county. He pointed out that he was not a voting member of the Town Council.

As for the annual $200,000 payment, Gwaltney said he had “no idea” what it was to be used for because that’s for the Town Council to figure out. Gwaltney added that it would probably go to maintenance and to keep the town running but it was ultimately up to the Town Council to decide.

Efforts to reach other members of the Town Council were unsuccessful. 

The letter contains a total of five conditions, each bulleted.

Aside from the annual cash contributions, two of the conditions are services that will already be offered by HRSD, including water meter reading and handling the billing of water customers. The others are demands that the county cut the town’s grass and be responsible for “trash can emptying” in Oaks Park, a strip of land along Route 31 owned by the town.

Surry Town Council members had said after the March 14 vote to transfer ownership of the sewage system that the agreements were made with County Administrator Tyrone Franklin during a meeting held in January.

Franklin has since stated that the meeting was an informal discussion with two Town Council members, a statement he reiterated during a Board of Supervisors work session Thursday.

“It was a very general conversation,” said Franklin. “But they acted as if it was the gospel.”

Franklin said he reached out to the Town Council following the conditional vote, and informed them of how requests should be properly presented to the county.

“Most of this is something that’s achievable,” Franklin said of the town’s conditions during the work session. “With the exception of the $200,000 contribution.”

Dendron District Supervisor Michael Drewry said he is “extremely opposed” to an annual payment of $200,000 to the town, asking if the request means that the town is willing to un-incorporate.

“I think it’s an unreasonable request,” said Drewry.  

Bacon’s Castle District Supervisor and Chairperson Judy Lyttle and Surry District Supervisor John Seward both said they agree with Drewry.  

The board had previously informally agreed to pay off the town of Surry’s current debt on its wastewater treatment plant, in the amount of $160,000, should the town decide to join the county in transferring its systems over to HRSD.

“That puts them in a good place,” said Lyttle of the debt payment. “I don’t know what they want the money for.”

Water and sewer is by far the most revenue-generating line item for the town, making up $250,000 of its $348,000 in annual receipts.

Expenses for water were roughly $27,000 for the town in 2016, and generated about $42,000 in revenue. The monthly water bill in the town is $3 and sewer is $47.

Cutting out sewer would leave the town with roughly $140,000 in annual revenue.

But the sewage system is also the town’s biggest expense. Without sanitation expenses, the town’s general fund, which includes costs for administration, insurance, postage/supplies, legal expenses and utilities, is about $73,716 annually. With water, that would be roughly $100,716 annually.

Seward said he will continue to lobby town residents to apply pressure on the Council to deed its sewers to HRSD.

“There’s nobody better to do it than HRSD,” Seward said, adding that he doesn’t want citizens strapped with the same sewer problems the town has experienced for another 20-30 years.

Drewry and Seward both said they would rather give the money to Sam Edwards to help with the wastewater filtration of Edwards Virginia Smokehouse, which burned down last year and is looking to rebuild. According to HRSD General Manager Ted Henifin, the 90-year-old ham company’s wastewater would need the flow of both the county and the town’s sewers. Edwards has said he has received offers from neighboring counties should the town decide not to transfer to HRSD.

The Board of Supervisors voted to deed the county’s wastewater systems to HRSD in February, which includes the town of Dendron’s.  

Managing editor Diana McFarland contributed to this report.  {/mprestriction}