DOBSON — A sharply divided Surry County Board of Commissioners approved a grant application which could lead to $225,000 in expenditures throughout the course of the next three years.
Monday evening Parks and Recreation Director Daniel White asked the board for the authority to apply for a N.C. Clean Water Management grant to fund a stream restoration at Fisher River Park and a Parks and Recreation Foundation (PARTF) grant for improvements at the park.
If the county receives the grant, commissioners would be forced to allocate $75,000 each year for the next three years to match the Clean Water grant, explained White. That grant would then also be used as a match and as leverage for the PARTF grant, which would fund restroom renovations, a disk golf course and other projects at the park.
In all, both grants amount to nearly $1 million, according to county officials.
White said a restoration of the banks at the park is much needed. Board Vice Chairman Eddie Harris agreed Monday evening.
The newest addition to the board, Commissioner Larry Johnson, touted the plan as using “free money” to improve the park and draw visitors. The plan would be an economic driver.
Board Chairman Buck Golding and Commissioner Larry Phillips raised budgetary concerns, with Phillips discussing how such appropriations could affect the development of the county’s long-term financial strategy.
With the board divided at the start of the week, Commissioner Van Tucker said he just didn’t feel right making a decision that evening.
“I’m a get out and touch it kind of guy,” said Tucker before making a motion to table the matter until he could go take a look at the river in person.
At a budget workshop Thursday evening, Tucker said he had paid the park a visit and was ready to cast a vote on the matter.
“I was new to the matter,” explained Tucker. “I sat on the bank and you know what, there’s a real problem.”
“I’ll make the motion we get away with spending $75,000 for the next three years to get a $1 million-project.”
Golding said he just doesn’t see where the stream restoration fits on a long list of county needs.
“I agree it’s a problem. I disagree it’s a priority,” explained Golding. “I will vote against this due to the money factor. This expenditure is far in excess of what we can afford.”
Phillips echoed the concerns.
“We’ve not decided on a long-term financial plan for the county,” said Phillips. “Now we are loading the hopper on the front end.”
“This is precisely why priorities are so important,” answered Harris. “I voted against the Interstates water and sewer project because it was a $5 million project that pitted the needs of our schools against those businesses.”
“In the scheme of a budget, this is not a large expenditure.”
Harris also said the steep banks, which are a result of erosion at the site, are a safety and liability issue.
“We need to either close this portion of the park and fence it off or fix it,” said Harris.
Johnson reiterated his remarks from Monday, highlighting the project as an investment which could spur increases in sales tax revenues and other economic benefits.
“Eventually that $225,000 we’ve invested will pay off,” noted Johnson.
With discussion having lasted about 15 minutes, Golding called for a vote. The measure was passed by a 3-2 majority, with Golding and Phillips voting against it.
While the vote gives White the authorization to go forward with the grant application process, it will be months before county officials know whether the county has received the grant.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.