Questions answered at Hampden District town hall meeting

Published 12:05 am Tuesday, April 2, 2024

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They talked about roads, education and sales tax Thursday night, with some other questions tossed in for good measure. Residents of Prince Edward County’s Hampden District came to the campus of Hampden-Sydney College, asking questions of county officials. It was the latest in a series of town hall meetings held in the area, organized by Dr. Odessa Pride, the district’s representative on the Prince Edward Board of Supervisors. 

The goal here was to give residents a chance to hear directly from officials and have the opportunity to ask questions. With Pride in a host role, introducing each one, residents heard a short presentation from each person, then could ask questions. 

Talking about revenue 

New Commissioner of the Revenue Crystal Hensley talked about her office’s work over the last three months since she took over, saying she was pleased with how far they’ve come in such a short amount of time. 

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In recent years, the property transfer process has run a bit slow. Basically, if you bought a piece of property, it was still registered in the former owner’s name 14 months later. Hensley said her office is working on fixing that, as well as addressing other long-standing issues with the county’s Geographic Information System (GIS). 

Also, delayed tax bills have been a complaint residents raised in the past. Section 58.1-3912 of the Virginia Code only says that a city or county treasurer has to mail the tax bills “not later than 14 days prior to the due date”. Since taxes are due on Dec. 5 in Prince Edward County, no rules were broken by the previous delays. But residents understandably would like to see the bills go out earlier, so they a) know how much they owe and b) have more time to come up with a payment plan. Hensley told Hampden District residents that her team was getting ready to start personal property assessments in the next few weeks, with the goal of getting the bills out on time. 

Hampden District told Abilene work starting 

One question residents had involved Abilene Road and when work would start. Speaking for the Virginia Department of Transportation, engineer Chris Winstead said they’re not quite sure, although they’ve narrowed the dates down a bit. 

“We will start the shoulder widening process (in) April or May,” Winstead said. “We’re not sure yet.” 

The goal here is to make it easier for vehicles to travel on the road side by side. Widening the shoulders will help with that. And after Abilene, Meherrin Road will be next on the widening plan. 

Let’s build an elementary school 

Prince Edward Superintendent Dr. Barbara Johnson was also on hand for the town hall meeting, talking both about the renovation of Prince Edward Elementary and why Prince Edward will be extending Spring Break by a day. 

Originally, students and staff were supposed to return from Spring Break on Monday, April 8. But that’s also the date for the next solar eclipse, which will take place from just before 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Prince Edward and Buckingham school districts have chosen to keep students home for the day, while Cumberland, Charlotte and neighboring Lunenburg counties will all run on regular schedule. 

Dr. Johnson said there were a couple factors that went into the decision, but a key one was the fact the eclipse will be going on during dismissal time and if it was for 10 or 15 minutes, then sure they could hold students in class. 

“(But) a two-hour block is too long to hold students,” Johnson said. 

She also added that the schools wouldn’t have any material to protect students from looking up and burning their retinas. The district put in an order for solar eclipse glasses, Johnson said, but they never arrived. And so, students will stay home for one extra day of Spring Break. 

She also talked about chronic absenteeism in the schools, saying it was critical over the next month that all students show up to take exams. The problem is a significant number of students are not coming to class on a regular basis. 

“Our absentee numbers are still running anywhere from 20-25%,” Johnson told the Hampden District residents. 

Hampden District and sales tax 

As the final speaker on the night, Prince Edward Administrator Doug Stanley spoke about the potential 1% sales tax hike. The bill has passed through both the Virginia House and Senate, however it hasn’t been signed into law yet by Gov. Glenn Youngkin. 

Now if Youngkin does sign, that doesn’t automatically mean sales tax goes up. If he signs, it then goes before voters during the November election, where Prince Edward residents would choose if they want the sales tax hike or not. The money from this would go to help cover renovation costs at Prince Edward Elementary. 

Stanley pointed out that if the money is collected through sales tax, it meant more than just landowning residents would pay. 

“If we did a sales tax, yes we would pay into that,” Stanley said. “But so would the college students. So would other folks who come through the community.”  

Youngkin has until Monday, April 8 at 11:59 p.m. to either sign, amend or veto the bill.

Editor’s note: Reporter Connor Thompson contributed to this article.