Bond hearing draws heated comments

First Posted: 12/7/2009

The Surry County Commissioners approved $9 million and $1.1 million bonds at their meeting last night, but not before participating in a heated discussion on the topic of spending.
Billie Slate, owner of Pine Ridge Classic Golf Course in Mount Airy, addressed the countys spending during the open forum held at the beginning of the meeting.
Slate said, Ive come in the past to complain, but tonight Ive come to beg of you to live within your means. Quit spending money that we dont have.
According to Slate, the unemployment rate is around 12 percent in Surry County. He said his business has made a very small profit in the past few years.
Slate urged the county to cut back on spending in a time when he said many businesses are struggling and a large number of people are without jobs.
Before you give any incentives or pass any bonds or anything, think about the people of Surry County. Theyre the ones thats having to pay for all of this, and they have to live within their means, Slate remarked.
Soon after the open forum, the board held two public hearings on bonds. The first proposal, $9 million general obligation bonds, passed without public comment.
Betty Taylor, assistant county manager for budget and finance, said, This is not new debt. This is replacement debt.
These general obligation bonds, at a low interest rate, have the potential to save the county $300,000 when repaying debts.
During the public hearing for the proposed $1.1 million bonds to help pay for the Elkin Workforce Development Center, Slate came up again to speak to the board, repeating some of the same comments he made during the open forum.
Commissioner Paul Johnson said, Were living totally within our means and were providing an outlet in Elkin for Surry Community College and potentially an agricultural center there that would be a division of the Pilot Mountain branch eventually. So were actually providing services, and were not raising your taxes at all.
Slate argued that if the bond isnt going to raise taxes, then the county should instead use $1.1 million to pay on debt they already owe.
Commissioner Craig Hunter said, If we dont do things to recreate jobs and recreate industry here and try to take some proactive measures to fix schools, get rid of trailers, put workforce development centers in place, Id say your taxes will go up.
So were trying to do things that will keep your taxes down and hopefully put people back to work and bring industry in here by doing water and sewer and industrial parks and recreation parks and nice schools. Id say if were not able to spend the money and do the things that need to be done, your taxes, my opinion is, your taxes will go up because well lose everything.
Slate replied, I dont think youre understanding what Im saying. With the economy the way it is and with roughly 20 percent of the people out of work thats willing to work, its not a good time to be spending money.
Hunter said, Its not a good time to spend money unwisely. I believe were spending money wisely.
Hunter adamantly pointed out that in the seven years that he has been a member of the board, he has seen the countys savings account accumulate from $12 million to $30 million and taxes lowered from 64 to 58 cents.
Come up here and say were spending money or living outside our means, I take exception to it. Im a public official and Ill take it with a grain of salt, but I dont agree, Hunter said.
And I also take exceptions to what youre saying, Slate replied before thanking the board and returning to his seat.
The board went on to unanimously approve the $1.1 million public building bonds. Taylor said that although the county has to pledge their ability to raise taxes on the bond application, they dont expect to have to raise taxes. Hunter added that the county is freeing up some old debt now which may help with expenses.
Slate wasnt the only citizen to voice his concerns or requests to the board. Two other citizens came up to speak during the open forum.
Chet Jessup of Pilot Mountain asked the board to consider naming the Sheriffs Office after Deputy James Trevathan, the only employee of the Sheriffs Office to have been killed in the line of duty.
Shane May of Pilot Mountain came up to ask the board to keep the community adjacent to the location of the Pilot Mountain Middle School informed on changes being made to the road leading to the school.
Contact Meghann Evans at [email protected] or 719-1952.

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