Commissioners hope stimulus plan will bring federal money to Surry

First Posted: 2/9/2009

DOBSON As the Senate votes on the federal government’s $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package today, local legislators wait to see how it will affect funding on a local level.
The Surry County Board of Commissioners approved a $112 million Economic Stimulus Plan for 2009 that encompasses funding for education, water and sewer improvements and extensions and improvements to public safety equipment. The package includes requests from Surry Community College, the Surry County, Mount Airy and Elkin boards of education, the city of Mount Airy, the towns of Pilot Mountain, Dobson, Elkin and the county itself.
County Manager Dennis Thompson said the Surry County Board of Commissioners passed a vote last month to approve the plan and to send it to both state and federal legislators.
One version of the stimulus plan has been approved by House of Representatives. Another version is soon to be approved, we think, by the Senate. Then they will have to get together and reconcile their versions or their differences and that will have to happen before we will know exactly what is in the stimulus bill. My understanding is that there is less for local governments and education in the two bills than we would like to see, said Thompson.
Thompson said he doesnt expect to see the plan funded in its entirety, but he said, it will act more as a road map for future funding.
The plan is to give an illustration of our needs from the various governments in the hopes that would stimulate Congress to put more money that might otherwise be the case into local government and educational projects. We just see ourselves as one example of many, many local governments that have needs. I certainly would not anticipate our plan being funded as a plan, there will be components that might be funded such as the water and sewer components, or the educational facilities components. By doing the plan, we are just trying to give a total picture of the needs of one small southern county, explained Thompson.
The plan is a list of government and education projects that are in various stages of planning and design, that can be advanced to construction within six months of funding.
A few examples of projects in the plan include Surry Community College asking for $4.5 to $5 million to fund the North Carolina Viticulture and Enology Center. The college also asked for $600,000 to fund an addition to a physical education building. Another $1,050,000 is in the plan to fund an addition to the Student Services building.
Thompson said laying out the stimulus package gives different government entities documentation for future funding.
I think one benefit of the plan is when the various units of governments apply for specific projects, which they will probably have to do once the stimulus money is made available, they can use our planning effort as a back-up document showing that we have coordinated with all units of government and they we are not asking (for the money) twice, for example, Thompson said.
Thompson said he sent the package to Rep.Virginia Foxx and state officials including State Sen. Don East and State Representatives Sarah Stevens and Darrell McCormick.
You can consider it as a need of the local governments. We are essentially a case study of one county among 3,000 counties across the United States. We all have similar needs, but we are making our request on behalf of Surry County, Thompson said.
Chairman Craig Hunter hopes the plan will help improve the local economy.
The BOCC feels like the plan submitted gives a very clear and precise overview of the most critical needs in our local economy. The BOCC welcomes any help from federal and state leadership that would put our citizens back to work and stimulate our local economy and create new job opportunities, Hunter said.
Until the mid-1990s, the county had a vibrant economy composed of manufacturing companies that sold to national and international markets; a strong regional retail sector; and many small farms, including tobacco farms. Since that time, the tobacco economy has declined, and much of the countys manufacturing sector, including textiles, furniture and small appliance manufacture, has closed or moved overseas. the report states.
Statistics from Surry Countys Economic Development Partnership reports that since 1998, 6,336 manufacturing jobs have been lost, representing about 43 percent of the manufacturing base and 17 percent of the employment base. That in a county with a total population of just 72,380.
The N.C. Employment Security Commission reported that as of Jan. 15 the countys labor force was 35,414, with 3,266 unemployed. November statistics report 9.2 unemployment in Surry County, compared to 7.9 percent in North Carolina as a whole and 6.7 in the nation. USDA statistics on poverty rates show that in 2007 the poverty rate in North Carolina was 14.3. In Surry County it was 17.5 percent.
All of these factors, local officials hope, will help attract more of the federal stimulus money.
The plan included requests from school systems and local municipalities.
Surry County schools wants $12 million to fund a central district elementary school. The facility would house 450 students in grades pre-kindergarten through grade 5. The school system is also asking for $15 million to fund an east district middle school. The east district is also in need of $2.5 million to fund an elementary school renovation. The school system is also asking for $500,000 to fund the purchase and renovation of the Reece building in Dobson as a technology and training center.
The Elkin City School system included $7.3 million to fund Phase II of Elkin High School, which includes the replacement of a 1935 building. Officials there also want $3.82 million in funding for Phase III of the Elkin High School renovations to upgrade a 1947 classroom building to todays standards. The system is also asking for $200,000 to up-fit technology. The school system wants $789,000 to replace energy management systems and to replace the heating and cooling system for the gymnasium. The last project on Elkin schools list is $10 million for a renovation and addition to the gym facility.
The Mount Airy City Schools are asking for $2.5 million for renovations to Mount Airy High School. They are also asking for a little over $1 million for a fascia replacement of the gymnasium, cafeteria renovations, heating and cooling funds and a roof replacement at Tharrington Primary school.
The city of Mount Airy has a few multi-million dollar projects including a $6 million sewer line extension to the Welcome Center on Interstate 77 at the North Carolina/Virginia line. Another water project for $1 million is to extend water and sewer lines to the Piedmont Triad West Industrial Park. A $9.6 million project includes the installation of 32,000 feet of water line and 56,000 feet of sewer lines to serve the Interstates water district located in western Surry County at the junction of Interstates 74 and 77 and N.C. 89.
The city is also asking for $800,000 for a new aerial truck to replace a 1977 refurbished ladder truck. They city also requested $1.2 million to relocate the North Main Street fire station to be able to better service the newly annexed area in the Cross Creek Country Club area.
The town of Dobson listed a water system inter-connection between itself and Mount Airy at the cost of $1.46 million as its top priority in the stimulus plan. The town is also seeking to add wastewater equipment and employees at the cost of $400,000. The construction of a public works facility is also on their list of to-dos at $1.5 million. The town would also like to get $700,000 for sidewalk repair and another $250,000 for public safety needs such as patrol vehicles, protection equipment and to hire additional officers.
The town of Elkin is requesting $73,750 for fire hydrant upgrades, $450,000 for a raw water main upgrade, $285,000 for a Memorial Park pump station, $350,000 for a gravity sewer for Corporate Park and $538,000 for a pump station, force main and plant decommissioning.
The town of Pilot Mountain wants to build a water line at the cost of $3.4 million that would allow the town to sell water to the town of King. Pilot Mountain also wants to create a water connection with Mount Airy costing $2.5 million. Their part of the stimulus plan includes a downtown utilities relocation in partnership with Duke Energy that will cost $1.3 million. A sewer main replacement the town is asking for will cost $638,590.
As far as Surry County government goes, $10.7 million is needed to build The Greater Interstates Water and Sewer District. The district is needed for economic development according to the plan. Project two on the countys plan calls for a water supply for the Central District Elementary School at the cost of $1.7 million. The county is also seeking $1.8 million for a Fibrowatt Economic Development project. The county also wants $1 million for public safety capital equipment use.
Finally, the county wants to spend $2 million on local non-profit capital grant initiatives which includes requests from volunteer fire departments, rescue squads, arts councils, museums and other agencies.
Contact Mondee Tilley at [email protected] or at 719-1930.

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