Needed improvements discussed

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, December 1, 2021

If Prince Edward residents had a “Christmas wish list” for county improvements, it appears better public schools would be at the very top of the list.

Recently, Prince Edward County officials stated on social media the county’s revenues have grown by approximately 15% over the past five years. Both Prince Edward County and The Farmville Herald asked Facebook users where they would like to see increased revenue used in order to better the county.

By a wide margin, the majority of residents felt increased revenue would be best used in order to improve the local school system.

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Resident Hugh Pleasants said he’d like to see funds go toward education, pointing to low test scores.

“It’s sad when I go to a gas station and ask for 10 gallons of gas and the cashier pulls out a calculator to figure out the total,” Pleasants said. “Invest in the teachers and increase expectations and accountability, accordingly.”

“Increase pay and retention incentives for teachers, not school board members,” commented Prince Edward resident Ann Sharone. “Invest in more trade programs. Also, after school programs other than sports … possibly a community center. Fixing up the schools would be nice.”

“When you have quality schools, everything else follows,” resident Tammy Nelson commented. “Public Schools. Period,” local business owner Nash Osborn said of the increased funds. “If they aren’t applied to the school system here, none of the rest of it matters. We can’t attract industry or expect professors and teachers to live in our community without great schools. Everyone is always up-in-arms about needing more grocery options. Do you know what those companies look for when scouting? Workforce possibilities and school systems. Both go hand in hand. It’s not all that difficult to realize what is needed.”

Resident Nikki Kain had similar feelings. “Public schools, and public schools only,” she wrote.

Local Bruce Davis said he’d also like to see funds used for public school development, including building and outside improvements, safer and upgraded playgrounds and other outdoor facilities.

“Enlarge the elementary parking lot and drop off area,” Davis listed. “More athletic facilities so all teams have a place to train and practice. Invest in the career tech programs. We need more trade options for our students. Salaries for teachers and staff so we have the top notch educators.”

Davis said he’d also like to see funds go toward housing for the elderly and low income residents as well as community parks and recreations throughout the county, not just the Town of Farmville, and a sports complex which would bring in people from all over to spend money in the county.

While social media users repeatedly brought up improvements to the public schools system, there were many other recommendations as to where increased revenue could go.

Susan Edwards said she’d like to see investments made into tourism in order to bring in more future revenue and give younger locals reasons to stay in the area.

Resident Angela Thorpe said she’d like to see funds used to purchase body cameras for the county’s sheriff’s department as well as lowering insurance premiums for emergency personnel.

“A homeless shelter would also be nice,” she added.

“Public shooting range,” recommended Glenn Shepard, who works in the county. “Get kids involved and teach them safety and skills.”

“More curb cuts and sidewalk maintenance,” commented local Zachariah Kowalski.

Paul Hoffman recommended cutting or eliminating personal property taxes on boats and other recreation vehicles.

“This may also stimulate a mini boom in RV storage facilities and would attract retirees.”

Others recommended the county send that revenue back to residents.

“Give it back to the people and reduce taxes,” Diana Shores wrote.

County Administrator Doug Stanley said the main purpose of the post on the county’s Facebook page was to engage citizens in a dialogue about where investments need to be made as a community.

“We can see from the Facebook posts that an overwhelming majority of those who commented would like to see investment in the public schools,” Stanley said. “Closing the digital divide/high speed internet was another subject that was mentioned by many. Other topics that surfaced were public safety, affordable housing, another supermarket and lower property taxes.”

Stanley said while it is true the county’s gross revenue has increased by 15% over the past five years, one has to be cognizant that inflation has risen by 15.02% over the same time period.

“So while the county is collecting 15% more in gross revenue, it has not provided any additional buying power but only allowed us to maintain the status quo,” he noted.

“General Fund Revenue increased from $24,073,3776 to $27,690,821 or 15.02%,” Stanley stated. “Over that period, the largest growth was in the property tax category which is up 25.47% and includes real estate, personal property and machinery and tools taxes. On the expense side, general government administration (22.23%), public safety (13.85%), and health and welfare (24.04%) were the areas of most significant growth.”

Stanley said over the past year, the county has worked to provide additional opportunities for citizen input including the ability to call into meetings and watch them via YouTube.

When asked about some of the ways the county has determined where best to invest funds, Stanley pointed to the county budget.

“In the budget deliberations for the current FY22 budget, all efforts were made to put extra funding into the capital improvement plan funding ($608,708) and funding for the Sandy River project ($385,000) as a result of the $0.04 increase in the real estate tax rate. This has provided an opportunity for us to invest in the future of our community and its facilities.”