Prince Edward County supervisors sign off on tax rate increase
Published 12:25 am Thursday, April 27, 2023
FARMVILLE – One by one, Prince Edward County residents came to the podium Tuesday night. And each one said the same thing. The schools need to be fixed, so if a tax hike is how that gets done, they’re ok with it.
Eric Hodges told the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors that as it stands, the schools aren’t a great marketing tool for the county.
“The schools are struggling,” Hodges said, sharing about his 7-year-old daughter’s situation. “Oftentimes, my daughter will come home and she’s just not having the best experience. I know they’re taking steps to improve things, but they need more help.”
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Justin Pope agreed. The father of two students in Prince Edward schools, with one in third grade and one in fifth grade, the chief of staff at Longwood University said adding money to repair and renovate sends a clear message.
“The most important economic development tool we can invest in as a community is a signal that we care about education and our school facilities,” Pope said.
He added that increasing taxes to fix damaged facilities also sends a message to teachers, parents and to the Assembly in Richmond.
“It’s an important signal to parents,” Pope said. “We want to be helpful in schools. We see hard things but also some really good things happening. Test scores are up this year. Two Prince Edward High graduates were named Goldwater scholars. Amidst challenges, there are good things happening.”
And the county needs to show its support for those positive steps, Pope argued, by paying to fix the facilities. Every speaker who came up during the meeting on Tuesday, April 25 said the same thing. They want to see progress and they’re willing to pay for it.
What changes for Prince Edward County residents?
By a 7-1 vote, with David Emert opposing, supervisors voted to increase the real estate tax rate from 47 cents per $100 of valued property to 51 cents. That puts Prince Edward County in a tie as the third lowest tax rate in the region with Amelia County.
Lunenburg County is the lowest at 38 cents, Nottoway is at 48 cents and Prince Edward is now right above that at 51. The highest in the region by far is Cumberland, which currently stands at 75 cents. Appomattox County is behind that at 63 cents and Charlotte County is at 62. Buckingham County, which approved their own tax increase on Monday, is right above Prince Edward at 55 cents.
That four cent tax hike for Prince Edward will go towards the county’s capital improvement plan. For every penny increased on the real estate tax rate, the county gets $175,000 more in revenue. Three cents of the increase will go to the Sandy River Reservoir project, with one penny for the Prince Edward County Elementary renovation project.
More about the projects
Everyone knows about the issues surrounding Prince Edward Elementary. There are leaks, traffic issues and other problems that only a full renovation will fix. And the county has tried everything possible to make that happen. They’ve looked at federal and state grants and the latest attempt to get a 1% sales tax to help fund construction was shot down in this year’s Assembly session.
Moseley Architects has held community meetings and is starting the design process. The county hopes to put the elementary project out to bid later this year. Without state funding in place, the tax increase was needed to help pay for this, as the renovation can’t be delayed.
The other major project receiving funding from this tax increase will be the Sandy River Reservoir. Prince Edward supervisors hope to have a final memorandum of understanding in place over the next few months, to then hold a public hearing, build a water plant and start providing water to the state facilities in Nottoway County, as a start. The goal would be to start construction on this project as well, over the next year.
Other issues facing Prince Edward County
But while those are some of the most expensive issues facing the county, they’re not the only ones. The Code of Virginia requires counties and cities to give their school district a budget by May 1. That’s so they can issue contracts, start hiring teachers and prepare for the fall semester. But right now, there’s one problem. Nobody knows what the state budget will look like.
When it adjourned in February, the Assembly still hadn’t decided between three budget options. There’s the House version, which is the most conservative. There’s the Senate version, which provides the most funding. And there’s Governor Youngkin’s proposal, which falls somewhere in the middle. Currently, negotiators from the Virginia House and Senate are putting together a compromise, but that’s even up in the air. The governor called the Assembly back for a reconvened session, only to see that end without an agreement on the budget.
“Everything still looks like it’ll be late June before the Assembly gets back,” Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said. “We’re still holding out hope.”
That delay, however, means counties like Prince Edward are forced to make a guess. Right now, the county is using the House version of the budget, the most conservative, to plug in numbers, both for schools and across the board.
“At least this allows (the schools) to be moving forward and not have to wait until the end of June,” Stanley said.
Beyond the elementary school, the district also asked for an operating budget increase of $556,907, which the supervisors approved. That covers a receptionist at the middle school, an extra early childhood special education teacher at the elementary school, moving one school psychologist from 11 months to a 12-month employee for the middle and high school, then adding another part-time psychologist position. The money will also cover the cost for three bus monitors and bus aides, along with an instructional mentor for special education and another physical education teacher at the middle school.
Confusion due to the state
Beyond schools, there’s also a question of a raise. The Assembly has announced they want a 7% increase for all county employees in one version of the budget. Another version calls for a 5% raise. But since it’s still not clear, Prince Edward has to set aside enough to cover their portion of whichever version eventually passes.
Supervisors also agreed to increase the contribution for volunteer fire departments in the area from $74,800 to $80,000. They increased the amount available for sheriff’s office overtime to $175,800 and this upcoming budget includes the final payment for the library project, which will be $226,299.
Now even though the vote’s been cast, that doesn’t mean this is finalized. Depending on which version the state eventually adopts, the supervisors will have to revisit the budget and adjust accordingly.