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Taxes kept steady; increase would have boosted schools

Real estate taxes are not going up in the coming year. Halifax County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Monday evening to keep the real estate tax rate at 45 cents per $100 valuation.

Acting on a motion by ED-5 Supervisor Barry Bank and seconded by ED-7 Supervisor Lottie Nunn, supervisors agreed not to raise any tax rates — personal property remains at $3.60 and machinery and tools tax is set at $1.26.

Finance committee members J. T. Davis, William Fitzgerald and chairman Doug Bowman joined the rest of the board in rejecting the proposed 2-cent hike.

Last month finance committee members had recommended supervisors raise the real estate tax rate by two cents from its present rate of 45 cents to 47 cents. 

Each penny increase in the real estate tax rate would have generated $359,000 in additional income for a total of $718,000 had the 2-cent increase been approved.

Earlier, finance committee members said they had planned to suggest the board use two-thirds of the first penny increase to provide additional school funding of $240,000 and commit the remaining one-third of the penny to the general fund balance so that unmet budget requests and expenses cut from the budget could be considered for funding.

The other penny increase would have been earmarked for courthouse renovations.

Realizing Monday evening there were not enough votes to raise taxes, Bowman said the finance committee would not be making any recommendation to raise the real estate tax rate.

Recognition that courthouse renovations would be a “high dollar project” and supporting public education were the reasons Bowman said were the “major impetus for the 2 cents” real estate rate increase originally proposed.

“It is clear we don’t have support for any tax increase, so that will not come from the finance committee as a recommendation,” he added.

However, he said supervisors will have to “deal with the courthouse this year and next year, and it’s going to require significant investment that we don’t have an option about making.

“We have got to stay in control of the project because if we don’t stay in control of that project, the judge will take it over, and it will be a lot more expensive,” the finance chairman said.

Supervisors held a separate vote to set the school board budget for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1. 

Acting on a motion by Fitzgerald, the board voted 7-1 to hold the increase in local school funding to $360,000, and not provide an extra $240,000 as finance committee members earlier had suggested.

Davis voted against the motion that held the school appropriation to $13,267,529.

Prior to voting against the motion, the ED-1 supervisor expressed concern over the county being ranked fifth in salary scale when compared to five different peer divisions.

He referred to comments in the Prismatic efficiency study that indicated 87 percent of school employees believe their salary levels are not competitive with neighboring school divisions.

“My fear is that the Prismatic study shows we’re not competitive. What are the type of people we are going to lose? It’s the people at the top. We’ve got teachers driving to Pittsylvania County and Campbell County now,” Davis added.

He expressed his concern that by not funding additional money to the schools, the school system will continue “to lose good people.”

Davis said he had been “pretty hard” on the prior school administration, adding, “But I have been very pleased with the direction that this new administration is moving along with the school board, and I wish that we could find some way to put money there for a salary increase. If we don’t, I think we are taking a major step backwards as far as education, and we may very well lose the good people that are there.”

ED-6 Supervisor E. Wayne Conner pointed out the county plans to increase its local cost per student from $3,318 in 2013 to $3,397 in 2014.

“It is at least a small increase in contributions per student,” Conner added.

The head count indicates 370 fewer students will be attending schools in the upcoming school year than in 2011.

“If we continue to have a decrease in students, we may have to look at closing some more schools. That’s a pretty sizeable decrease in students of 7 percent from 2011 to 2014,” he added.

School Superintendent Dr. Merle Herndon attended Monday night’s board meeting along with School Board Chairman Kim Farson and several other board members.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Farson told supervisors, “Our teachers are overworked and underpaid. They feel like they are not respected. The teachers of this county go above and beyond. It’s not just a day job for them… I do wish it was a way that we could find to give our teachers that increase that is much needed and deserved.”

After learning the schools would be receiving only $360,000 in extra funding above last year rather than $500,000, Herndon and Farson indicated the 2 percent raises for school employees previously approved by school board members may be in jeopardy.

When asked after the meeting if school board members may rescind the motion approved last month to give all employees 2 percent raises in the upcoming year, Farson said, “Possibly, possibly. We’ve got to redo the whole budget now.”

She added, “We’ll have to go back and look at everything. We’ll have to go back to the table and just look at everything, but I’m not going to speak for the board and say that we are going to give up on the raises.”