Will taxes go up? Prince Edward supervisors consider rate increase

Published 1:00 am Friday, April 7, 2023

FARMVILLE – Prince Edward Elementary needs renovations. The school district also has come before the county asking for some additional teacher and staff positions. In order to cover those costs and other needs, Prince Edward supervisors are looking at a property tax rate increase for the coming year.

The current plan would increase the tax rate from 47 cents per $100 of valued property to 51 cents. It would put Prince Edward County tied as the third lowest tax rate in the region with Amelia County. It was a decision made with one member in opposition. David Emert voted against the decision.

Lunenburg County is the lowest at 38 cents, Nottoway is at 48 cents and Prince Edward would be 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 is right above Prince Edward at 55 cents.

‘The hike was needed’

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The hike was needed, County Administrator Doug Stanley said, because when everything was added up, Prince Edward was looking at a shortfall.

“Once we had all the budget requests in from all the departments, and what we had included from the schools, we were $2.1 million short in revenue,” Stanley said. “(We) worked hard over the last several weeks to try and reduce that deficit and at the end of the day, we were able to balance the budget.”

But to do that, Stanley said, and start work on two of the county’s biggest infrastructure projects, a tax rate hike was needed.

Part of that is due to uncertainty as to what the General Assembly will or won’t do. 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, which the full Assembly will be called back into session to debate and discuss later this month. But until that’s decided, counties have to go with their best guess as to how much state funding they will receive.

“After going through last year where we waited until June to adopt a budget to let the state finish the budget process, we decided not to do that this year,” Stanley said, highlighting the delays and uncertainty waiting had caused. “Instead, we’re looking to move forward with a conservative budget, get it adopted and we can make adjustments later.”

More about the schools

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.

“We’re still hopeful, we’ll continue to push and plead with the General Assembly to give us authority on the 1% sales tax,” Stanley said.

But at the same time, the clock is ticking. 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 board realizes we’re gonna have to start making some decisions on an alternative plan if (the sales tax) doesn’t come through,” Stanley said.

And that’s where the tax rate hike comes in. With the extra money, the county can start setting aside funding for the project.

Beyond that, Prince Edward increased the overall school district’s portion of this proposed budget by $556,907. All three of the proposed state budgets require a 7% salary increase for teachers and school staff. However, the Assembly doesn’t want to cover the full amount. Counties and cities are being asked to pay a portion of the salary hikes. This $556,907 covers the county portion of those salary increases and funds the additional teachers and staff the district asked for.

In her presentation to county supervisors, Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson requested one extra special education teacher, an additional physical education teacher, a part-time psychologist and some receptionist spots, among others.

“We think that gives the school system what they need to be competitive,” Stanley said.

Prince Edward supervisors reflect 

The final major project receiving funding from this budget 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.

Between that and the school needs, supervisors feel the tax hike is worth it.

“The Board of Supervisors has proposed returning the real estate tax rate to pre-Covid levels in order to fund two major capital projects,” Supervisor Harrison Jones said. “The Prince Edward County Elementary School Renovation and the infrastructure at the Sandy River Reservoir are two once-in-a-generation projects that are strong investments in our community. Personally, I would rather have made more extensive cuts to our budget to keep our tax rate a couple of pennies lower, but this was a decision made by the entire board.”

Jones pointed to the fact even with the hike, the real estate tax remains third lowest in the region. He sees these changes as an example that Prince Edward supervisors are committed to improving the county. Jones’ fellow supervisor, Cannon Watson, agrees.

“We need to start saving money for the reservoir and the complete renovation of the elementary school,” Watson said.

He added that recently, he took a tour of the schools and came away with two thoughts.

“I left there thinking the principals seemed to be on top of it and the staff is doing a great job,” Watson said. “I also saw where the real vulnerability in the school district lies at the elementary. The entire county can really benefit from a new elementary school.”

As for the reservoir, Watson pointed out that a facility could do more than just sell water to other counties. He referred to the Tyson plant that recently closed in Glen Allen.

“If we snapped our fingers and had a water facility at Sandy River, we might be the only municipality in the region who could entertain the possibility of another one coming here,” Watson said.