PE Keeps Tax Rates The Same

Published 5:14 pm Thursday, April 11, 2013

PRINCE EDWARD – County supervisors sandwiched a meeting between work sessions Tuesday evening and, after much wrangling, a divided board voted against advertising a nine-cent increase in the real estate tax rate and for keeping the rate at its current level.

A public hearing has been advertised on the overall County and school budgets for Monday, April 22 at 7 p.m. in the board of supervisors meeting room at the county's courthouse.

What the board's action will mean for the County schools-which have requested a $1.4 million increase in local funding-is unclear. While there is not expected to be a great influx of revenue for the coming year that would fund the schools' request, supervisors in the midst of working through County funding issues would have the option of dipping into the County's fund balance.

Email newsletter signup

County Administrator Wade Bartlett offered that if they didn't do a lot on the school's request, they could absorb it.

“But if you're talking (adding) $400,000 or $500,000, I would recommend…if you don't do…a tax increase this year, you're probably gonna look at one next year,” Bartlett advised.

Pressed with an advertising deadline to keep the budget train on track, the board weighed through and defeated an early session motion to advertise the nine-cent increase, which would have generated enough funds to fully fund the school's operational budget increase.

The school had asked the County to chip in an additional $1,387,919 or (factoring an Average Daily Membership of 2,180) or a total of $9,494,571 in local dollars. Overall, with funding reductions and additions, the total school budget would increase $578,826 over the current year; the total budget with all funding sources was proposed at $26,244,906.

“First, I'd like to say that what's happened to Prince Edward County schools financially is the same thing that's happened in every other jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Division Superintendent Dr. David Smith cited in the school's budget presentation in the early budget work session. “As federal money has declined and as state revenues have declined, the burden is falling increasingly on the localities to make up the difference. Certainly, it would appear to be by design instead of by accident. It places a real burden on all localities in the state-Prince Edward is no different.

Last year, the reduction of state and federal funds was in excess of $2 million, the superintendent cited.

“We do deeply appreciate the support of this board with level funding, for the last three years. That support means a lot to us. That support, though, at level funding didn't make up the difference on the losses,” Dr. Smith said.

The school board's budget proposal factored $614,423 less in federal funds, $318,900 less in Title I 1003a federal funds, and $194,670 less in state funds-or a total proposed revenue reduction of $809.093.

But the school board also sought expenditure increases totaling $1,398,968 that factor in a four percent salary increase for all employees, $666,380; health insurance premium increase of $90,000; school improvement specialist, $80,450; occupational therapist/physical therapist projected increase, $75,000; elementary school requested increase of $33,000; middle school requested increases of $6,562; and a high school requested increase of $33,587; addition of a special education/homebound teacher, $50,000; athletic trainer/weight trainer, $50,000; elementary school resource officer, $49,400; placing current teachers on correct salary scale, $51,800; and funding for two buses and two vans, $212,789.

Supervisors Discussion

The board, however, chewed over the possible advertisement of a nine-cent real estate tax rate, but it was apparently too much of a pill to swallow in an election year with four of the board's eight seats at stake.

Hampden District Supervisor Charles McKay favored advertising the increase, but also offered that they will get “a lot of calls.” Farmville District (701) Supervisor Jim Wilck added that they would have a full house.

“Well, that's a good thing,” Bartlett added. “Then you will know how the public's thinking before you make a final decision.”

Bartlett suggested they would have time to look at the schools increases, may have questions for the schools, and they would have time to contemplate what they would and would not support.

“My opinion is we know what the school has asked for,” Board Chairman William “Buckie” Fore commented. “We have said from the very beginning that we did not, as a group, want a tax increase this year. However, if we support the school at a hundred percent-and I'm not saying one way or the other-then it will require a tax increase…of nine cents. We're not here to approve or deny the school board request tonight and we won't do it until after the public hearing…a couple of weeks from now. What we do have to decide is whether or not we want to advertise an amount that would cover the school request provided the public hearing demanded that this board support the school at a hundred percent.”

The key, he offered, is they cannot increase the rate above what was advertised. (The only way a county can increase the tax rate above that which is advertised is to re-advertise and hold another hearing, a process that was estimated to take about three weeks.)

“Another thing that bothers me is if we keep on taking up the slack from the state and the federal government,” McKay commented, “what are they gonna do? They're gonna keep on handing it down. I mean, that's normal…They are the good guys. They don't raise taxes. We're the bad guys because the buck stops here, right at this desk.”

It was highlighted multiple times that they were merely making a decision on what to advertise, not the final tax rate. Boards are permitted to lower a rate without having to re-advertise a budget.

“You're not making a final decision,” Bartlett advised.

“No,” McKay added. “And I will not make the final decision tonight.”

McKay's motion to advertise a 51-cent real estate tax rate was defeated on a five to three vote with he, Fore and Supervisor Pattie Cooper-Jones supporting and supervisors Wilck, Robert “Bobby” Jones, Don Gantt, Howard “Pete” Campbell and vice chairman Howard Simpson opposing.

A nine-cent increase was projected to generate-assuming a 98.8 percent collection rate-$1,416,033 in revenue for the County. It was also projected to be about a 21 percent increase over the current rate.

The board, on a motion by Jones, on a 6-2 (with Cooper-Jones and Simpson opposing) vote agreed to advertise tax rates that will stay the same as the current year.

Jones highlighted that the County funds locally more than any other surrounding county-citing per pupil for local and total funding.

It was noted in the discussions that the County's contribution to the school is greater than that generated by real estate.

The Advertised Budget

Tax rates would remain the same for the coming year. Real estate would remain at 42 cents per $100 of assessed value, tangible personal property (motor vehicles, business furniture and fixtures and heavy equipment) $4.50 per $100 of assessed value, machinery and tolls $4.20 per $100 of assessed value, merchant's capital 70 cents per $100 of assessed value, and farm machinery and tools would remain at zero.

The value used from real estate would be fair market value; for motor vehicles, loan value using NADA guide; business furniture and fixtures, 20 percent of original cost; heavy equipment, 20 percent of original cost; machinery and tools, ten percent of original cost; and merchant's capital 100 percent of original cost.

The overall budget for county operations as advertised is $53,164,862. It factors $8,106,652 in local funding for schools (or level funding) in a school budget that totals $24,856,987.

One issue supervisors did not address is the school's capital improvement plan. The plan, which spaces projects over five years, had included in its first year: planning/engineering for the athletic complex renovation; replacing the plumbing lines for three buildings that are underground and corroded ($114,269), replacing the locks for all doors ($120,000); enclosing the fifth grade wing entryway to the main building at the middle school ($83,774); planning/engineering for roof repair/replacement at the middle school; and the replacement of three buses ($300,000). Three buses are included in every year of the five-year capital improvement plan.

School Funding

In the wake of the board's decision, County school board members-meeting Wednesday afternoon-approved Dr. Smith's recommendation to authorize he and school board Chairman Russell Dove to request the board of supervisors consider some additional funding for some specific requests.

Specifically, school officials will ask $240,148 which includes $42,391 in local matching funds to add to $160,000 in state funding to provide a two percent salary increase for all employees; $90,000 to fund the health insurance renewal, and $19,369 in a local match for $39,955 in state funds for an early reading specialist.

Dr, Smith told the school board that they would lose $160,000 if they were not able to give at least a two percent increase. “And it does not make sense to forgo $160,000 if there's a possibility that some additional funding could be provided and then give our employees a two percent raise,” he said.

The health insurance increase, the superintendent also cited, would allow them to continue the health insurance at the level it has been provided and not have to make additional cuts in order to fund it.

The request for additional funding, Dr. Smith offered “may likely not need to come in the form of a tax increase. They may be able to provide that.”