County well positioned to weather economic downturn

Last updated: January 02. 2014 4:59PM - 259 Views
Keith Strange Civitas News Service

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DOBSON — If county officials have one word to describe their accomplishments in 2013, it would be “stability,” and that can be directly attributed to belt-tightening and careful planning, said Board of Commissioners Chairman Eddie Harris.

Looking back over the year that was, Harris called it a “year of tremendous stability.”

“I think that stability is from an employee, financial and general outlook perspective,” he said. “And that took quite a bit of work.”

One of the greatest accomplishments touted by the board chairman isn’t readily obvious unless the bottom line is scrutinized.

“I think it’s very clear that we’re better off coming out of 2013 than we were going in,” he said Tuesday. “Surry County is in a much better financial position. Our general fund revenue has increased by over $6 million, and that came from not filling vacant positions, some consolidation of services to streamline operations and the sale of our home healthcare service.”

That increase can be directly attributed to sound fiscal management, Harris added.

“It was just good, conservative government that made sure taxpayers’ money was being spent wisely and not wasted,” he said, noting that only a small fraction of the $6 million was new revenue. “Out of that money, only $130,000 was actual revenue growth and that’s attributable to an uptick in the sales tax revenue for the county, so I think that’s quite remarkable.”

And that fiscal management paid off during this year’s audit, Harris noted.

“We had a sterling audit report this year, and I think we’re heading into 2014 in a much more stable position,” he said.

Other than the financial accomplishments, Harris said 2013 was a fairly quiet year from a county board perspective, but creating jobs is never far from his mind.

“We have tried to manage county resources properly and equitably across the board in an effort to encourage economic development with an eye on improving the lives of county citizens,” he said, citing the sale of the former Vaughn Bassett facility to be used as the Mount Airy home of Awesome Products.

“I think that will eventually come to fruition and create jobs for county citizens,” he said, “and any time we can convert an abandoned property into a manufacturing facility that creates jobs and increases the tax base, that’s a positive for everyone.”

As far as any regrets, Harris said his major regret is out of his, and the county board’s, hands.

“The only thing I regret is we haven’t been able to do as much as we’d like to reduce the number of unemployed in the county,” he said. “It’s come down a little bit, but Surry County is pretty much mirroring the state and the nation. My personal perspective is that if the federal government doesn’t do something to stimulate domestic manufacturing, we’re probably going to continue on this stagnant course for some time. We have to start making products in this country again.”

In 2014, Harris has one message: Steady as she goes.

“I don’t see any major obstacles in our way in 2014 outside the national economy,” he said.

But the county has done what it can to weather the storm, Harris added.

“We have positioned ourselves to handle the economic environment as well as we can, and I don’t foresee anything that will change that in the coming year,” he said.

Reach Keith Strange at kstrange@civitasmedia.com or 719-1929.

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