Surry supervisors adopt flat tax rates, $69.8 million budget for 2024-25

Published 5:42 pm Monday, May 27, 2024

Surry County supervisors voted 3-2 on May 16 to adopt a $69.8 million budget for the 2024-25 fiscal year, with no changes to the county’s tax rates.

Board Chairman Robert Elliott, Vice Chairman Breyon Pierce and Bacon’s Castle District Supervisor Walter Hardy Jr. each voted in favor of the budget. Supervisors Amy Drewry of the Dendron District and Timothy Calhoun of the Surry District cast dissenting votes.

The budget reflects a 7% increase over the $65.2 million Surry’s supervisors voted last year to adopt for 2023-24.

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The citizens who reached out to me were alarmed, and not happy with where funding is allocated,” Drewry said. “They also expressed dismay that staff and the board weren’t seriously listening to their concerns. In my opinion, this budget spent too much on new hires, expanding staff and expense accounts while neglecting citizen impact areas. If we were growing, I would support expanding.  Our population is declining but our government is expanding and even with the new energy funds coming into the coffers, not much is trickling down to the citizens.”

County Administrator Melissa Rollins had initially proposed a $69.5 million 2024-25 budget. The additional $340,000 responsible for raising the total to $69.8 million, which intended to cover Surry’s portion of state-mandated 3% raises for school employees, wasn’t added until after Virginia’s General Assembly and Gov. Glenn Youngkin each agreed to a final 2024-26 biennial state budget on May 13.

Despite the unchanged real estate tax rate, which at 71 cents per $100 in assessed value makes Surry’s the lowest in Hampton Roads, Rollins is projecting a $359,000 increase in real estate tax revenue. The majority of the projected increase, some $296,000, is tied to the Cavalier solar farm, Rollins told supervisors in April.

Construction of the Cavalier project, which will span 1,750 acres across the Isle of Wight-Surry county line, began in 2023 and is expected to be complete by the end of this year, according to its Arlington-based developer, AES Corp. In addition to real estate taxes, a siting agreement Surry’s supervisors signed when approving the project that year specified payments of $1,400 per megawatt, or at least $252,000 annually, upon the 240-megawatt solar farm beginning its commercial operation.

The solar-related increase in real estate taxes and siting agreement collectively account for just under half of the total $1.2 million increase in the county’s proposed $32.2 million General Fund.

Surry’s School Board had voted in March to adopt an $18.5 million 2024-25 budget that called for just under $13.7 million, or a 4.8% increase, from county supervisors. The $13.4 million in total the supervisors voted to allocate to Surry County Public Schools, intended to absorb the cost of the raises, amounts to a 3% increase over the $13 million the county contributed to its school system for the current year.

The $340,000 will come from the county’s unassigned fund balance, Rollins said, meaning supervisors will need to come up with a plan for sustaining the new rates of pay in 2025-26 without further depleting the county’s cash reserves.

“We do recognize that fund balance should be used for one-time expenses as opposed to ongoing operating expenses,” Rollins said.

Large one-time expenses in the 2024-25 capital improvements plan account for $14.1 million, or 20%, of the total budget. The largest component of the plan is an additional $10 million in debt to fund a new public swimming pool, amphitheater and banquet hall operated by the county’s Parks and Recreation Department. The five-year plan lists $32.6 million in planned one-time expenditures through 2029.

The county is currently carrying $23.2 million in tax-supported debt, which includes $19.4 million in principal and another $3.8 million in interest through 2039. County policy requires that Surry’s total debt not exceed 3% of the assessed valuation of real estate and personal property in the county, which Rollins contended in April would remain the case even with the additional $10 million.

Other one-time expenses budgeted this year from the capital improvements plan include a $1.1 million upgrade of the well at Surry County High School. Roughly $969,000 of this cost was recently funded in a second round of federal infrastructure grants, with the remainder accounting for Surry’s 20% local match.

The CIP allocates another $1.9 million this coming fiscal year for school-related improvements, $720,400 for major infrastructure repairs at county facilities, just under $152,000 for economic development, and a $150,000 remodeling of the county treasurer’s office to add DMV Select services, a local alternative to visiting a Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles center.