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Many winners, school tax hike above all

South Boston News
SoVaNow.com / November 07, 2019
In the end, it wasn’t even close.

Halifax County’s sales tax referendum for education — which completed a long journey from a little-noticed bill in the General Assembly to a much-watched experiment across the State of Virginia — sailed to passage on Election Day by a lopsided, 4,122-vote margin.

Halifax County becomes the first locality in the state to authorize a local option sales tax for school capital construction. Local sales taxes, barred under Virginia’s Dillon Rule system, have been authorized by the General Assembly on only one other recent occasion: the 2011 transportation bill to build new roads and highways, with local sales taxes in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads added to the revenue mix.

In that instance, however, local sales tax increases were not subject to ballot approval. Halifax County voters defied naysayers by not only approving the sales tax hike of 1 cent, but embracing it by a 71-29 margin.

“It was a big victory for the county,” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg, who worked closely with the legislative author of the idea, Del. James Edmunds, to set up Tuesday’s vote.

“There should be nothing but good coming out of this sales tax referendum. This absolutely sets us up to take a comprehensive approach on school facilities for the next 30 years,” Lineburg said. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t do that.”

The referendum, which will raise the sales tax locally to 6.3 cents, a penny above Virginia’s 5.3 cent levy, is expected to bring in $3.3 million annually, for a present-day value of roughly $100 million in revenue over 30 years. Annual tax receipts are expected to grow over time, in step with interest expenses for whatever Halifax County decides to build.

That question — whether to build a new high school or renovate HCHS — was not settled by the referendum, which stipulates only that the money must be used for school construction and renovation projects.

Having fallen into a state of disrepair over its 40-plus years, HCHS is considered inadequate for the demands of a modern, 21st century education, according to school officials and outside architects who have evaluated the building.

Lineburg acknowledged that the high school has been “the primary aspect of the conversation,” but he said the state of all county school facilities must figure into the conversation going forward.

“We told the community we would look at every single aspect of it, and I think we owe it to the community to stick with that,” he said.

While the School Board has voted to pursue funding for a new high school — the genesis of Tuesday’s referendum — Lineburg said there is an “important delineation” to be made between that vote and a hard-and-fast position by the School Board that HCHS must be replaced with a new building.

“I will be open-minded and I hope everybody else will be as well,” he said. “Let’s look at this in detail, and with a sense of urgency.”

However, Lineburg also noted that the existing building has major problems, and two outside firms — Moseley Architects, hired by the School Board, and OWPR Architects and Engineers, brought in by the Board of Supervisors for a second opinion — both arrived at the conclusion that renovation of the building would be roughly 75 percent as costly as a new one.

“Everybody has had a chance to look at Moseley report and the OWPS report, on both boards, and there’s no reason to think that anything there is anything other than accurate,” Lineburg said.

“The only bad thing that can happen with the high school is if we Band-Aid it. Whatever we do needs to be comprehensive with the high school, and that’ll set us up [to work on] the elementaries.”

The outlook may be complicated by the arrival of newcomers on the Board of Supervisors and School Board, some of whom have openly said they will not support construction of a new school.

One of the newly-elected supervisors candidates, Ricky Short in ED-1, said Wednesday that he is skeptical of the need for an expensive high school upgrade.

“As far as building versus remodeling, I need to look at all the figures ….I really would like to see a nice remodeling compared to a new school,” said Short. “I’m definitely into remodeling as it’s being presented now.

“If they can build a new school at a lower cost, I’m certainly open to that,” he added.

While Short said he has not gone inside the building to review the conditions there, he also expressed doubt that a wholesale renovation, possibly costing between $73 million and $88 million — the figures offered by Moseley and OWPR — is necessary.

“They’re presenting everything that’s bad about the building. What is nice there?” he said.

Short said that as matters now stand with passage of the referendum, he’d like the newly reconfigured local boards to spend more time on studying the options. He suggested forming a joint committee of all county supervisors and school trustees, meeting monthly to arrive at a decision. “Back and forth, let’s just sit down together, all 16 members, as a joint committee and see what we’ve got.

“I would cost more money in the long run, probably,” he said of the process, “but I don’t like to make quick decisions, in a month or two. I think it will take at least six months.”

Former School Board chair Joe Gasperini, who resigned in July, said he was thrilled by Tuesday’s vote, but warned that a long delay in making a decision could cost the county greatly.

“If we end up as a community fighting over rebuild or remodel or brand new, where is the money going to be spent on various projects, we’ll end up spending more money on the delay” than Halifax would save with a decision to renovate. “You’ll end up spending more money on a remodel than you will on a new school.”

Gasperini noted that the Virginia Department of Education has determined that school construction costs go up by 6 percent each year, which represents $6 million annually on an investment of $100 million.

“If the powers that be get into a lengthy battle on what to do, they will end up wasting millions and millions of dollars, because the time factor will tick by and competition for companies with the resources and expertise to do what needs to be done will go up.”

That’s especially true, Gasperini said, with the rest of the state taking notice of what happened in Halifax County on Tuesday.

“It sets the stage for many other communities trying to do the same thing in the General Assembly,” he said. “If things aren’t done quickly, we’ll be waiting in line for architects and construction crews” that may go elsewhere.

Lineburg agreed that with 6 percent compounding interest on construction costs, renovation or otherwise, “I have got to think by spring, we need a decision.

“Each month you wait, you’re talking about adding $500,000 to the cost of the project. It’s hard to get around that. Time is of the essense. You don’t want to rush it, but you’ve got to move.

We’ve got to work together, we’ve got to be open minded and we’ve got to put the long-term good of our students first. I was really proud of Halifax County last night, I thought it was a tremendous testament to the people of the county … It speaks volumes of them and they’re putting children first.”



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Comments

All the idiots that voted for this, don't care that every other county is going to do this so basically the sales tax will go up with 1% for the entire state. Especially now that democRATS are in control. All these carpetbaggers coming here trying to change things. Glad i live close enough to a county line so I won't have to pay this extra tax. BOS members need to cut the budget by 20%

Comments

At first I was going to say that finally, intelligence won out over ignorance in Halifax County, but now when I read about newly elected officials wanting to take time to discuss options and run up even more millions of dollars, my frustrations with this county return. Everyone complains about the money being spent on construction projects, and studies, and architects, etc... These things have already been done by your predecessors and more money does not need to be spent for the newly elected officials to have their input. Mecklenburg County did the same thing when new boards were voted in and it took them an additional year or two to came to an "agreement" and cost them additional tens of millions. All I can think now, is "good old Halifax!"

Comments

Who are the fools who let it get so bad? No capital improvement plans ever put in place. Any accountability for them, or just a slap on the back and another leadership position? People who step off the edge of insanity and vote themselves a tax increase are definitely clouded by something. But the real devils are the ones who lead them to the edge.

Comments

I will give these politicians on thing, they let the idiots of this county vote themselves and everybody else a tax increase. Not many areas are that dumb. Charlotte county voted no to a meals tax. We can safely say that halifax count is less intelligent that Charlotte county residents. I saw that picture of Witt and some more morons thumbs up to paying more taxes. What a group of fools, except for the baby.

Comments

Rest assured the powers that be will NOW waste more money than ever before. To all of those who voted for a tax increase, don't come crying when your personal property and real estate taxes go up, it is gonna happen, just wait and see. The politicians now have a new pot of money to spend/waste and there's no one to blame but the voters who voted YES for taxes. We are now run by tax and spend democrats. Lord help us all!

Comments

Isn’t it amazing-Mr. Ricky Short has become an expert on the high school issue and he hasn’t attend a single meeting of the BOS!!! Plus he stated he had not been inside the high school!!! Boy a real “RINGER” has been elected!!☹️☹️☹️


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