New debt for Surry swimming pool?

Published 5:32 pm Friday, May 5, 2023

County residents urge lower taxes in lieu of $7 million project


Surry’s proposal to leave its real estate tax rate as-is despite rising property values, and increase the county’s debt to build a public swimming pool, drew the ire of some taxpayers at a May 4 public hearing on the county’s 2023-24 budget.

Surry supervisors adopted a real estate tax rate of 72 cents per $100 of assessed value last year, down from 77 cents in 2021. This year, County Administrator Melissa Rollins is proposing to leave the 72-cent rate in place despite what she called a “limited scope reassessment” of home values.

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County staff, as of April, projected receiving $112,514 per penny of the 72-cent rate come July 1, up 7% from the $105,000 per penny brought in during the current fiscal year, which ends June 30.

County resident Nancy Rodrigues urged the supervisors to “hit the pause on spending,” specifically citing plans in the proposed five-year capital improvements plan to spend roughly $7 million over the next two years to put in a swimming pool, amphitheater and pedestrian and bicycle trail on Surry County Parks and Recreation grounds.

Parks and Recreation, which was budgeted roughly $2.6 million for capital improvements at the start of the current fiscal year, is slated to receive a $6.4 million capital improvements budget come July 1, which would include $4 million from “new debt.” The proposed 2024-28 Capital Improvements Plan calls for Parks and Recreation to receive an additional $3.1 million in its capital budget come 2025.

Surry County budgeted $2.3 million for debt payments at the start of the current fiscal year. The proposed budget lists $2.9 million, or a 26% increase, to the county’s debt payments for 2023-24.

A letter from Rollins included in the draft budget states that during a community meeting in March, the idea of adding a pool, amphitheater and bicycle path, and possibly seeking grant funding for the projects, was “met with excitement and letters of support.”

Robert Chandler, another resident, said his retirement income has dropped 30% since 2021, while the assessed value of his home went up roughly $60,000 during the previous reassessment.

“I’m 76, almost 77, and I am required to withdraw from my IRA every year, which means at age 92, I will have $0 in my IRA,” Chandler said.

As of 2021, nearly one in every four Surry residents was age 65 or older, according to census data. County resident Sharná White, however, urged the supervisors to consider the needs of Surry’s younger residents too.

“There are those of us out here who do understand,” White said.

Some projects “can’t be put to the side,” White said, noting the 5% raises for teachers included in the county’s budget are mandated by the state.

Rollins’ proposed $65.2 million budget includes $31.3 million for the county’s general fund. The general fund budget includes roughly $13 million, or 41.5% of its total, for Surry County Public Schools. The amount would fully fund the $209,895, or 1.63%, increase the School Board has requested from the county. 

Surry’s proposed budget also includes a 5% cost-of-living increase for county staff.

County resident Susan Corvello also urged funding for additional paid emergency medical services personnel, highlighting the April disbanding of the Surry Volunteer Rescue Squad.

Surry County will hold a separate public hearing Tuesday, May 16 on its proposed tax rates. According to County Attorney Lola Perkins, state law mandates the required tax rate public hearing notice be advertised at least 30 days in advance of the hearing. The hearing was advertised on April 12. Surry supervisors are slated to vote on the budget and tax rates on May 18.