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Sales tax increase for schools discussed

Prince Edward County’s budget picture for 2021-22 came into sharper focus during a Tuesday, April 6, special called meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

The purpose of the meeting was to vote to advertise the budget in preparation for a Tuesday, April 20, public hearing. The conversations surrounding the budget gave a good idea of where the board is heading with the tax rate and how they plan to repair a leaky Prince Edward Elementary School roof.

The advertised tax rate remains at 51 cents per $100 valuation of real property. That rate would mean many taxpayers would pay 18% to 20% more in property taxes this coming year after the reassessment boosted the average property value in the county by almost 19%. But no supervisors who voiced opinions during Tuesday’s meeting believed the 51 cents would be the final rate.

County Administrator Doug Stanley has balanced the budget at the revenue neutral tax rate of 43 cents per $100 valuation. That rate means that although property values rose as a result of the reassessment, the average taxpayer will pay roughly the same amount they paid before the reassessment. Several supervisors voiced support for the 43-cent rate.

Stanley said the county budget includes a 5% cost of living adjustment for all employees. The budget also includes a 10% increase in health insurance costs. The county’s current insurance plan is actually decreasing in cost, but Stanley said the county wants to provide a more competitive health insurance package to aid in recruiting employees, particularly for positions in the Prince Edward County Sheriff’s Office.

The equalized rate of 43 cents leaves out $1.4 million of capital improvement funds Stanley said could be used to help jumpstart a capital improvement plan that includes funds for school facility improvements.

Supervisor Bobby Jones said instead of hitting up the property owners again with a tax increase, exploring an additional sales tax for the schools may be an option. Charlotte County residents approved a 1% sales tax increase in November. The 1% tax is expected to generate an additional $300,000 per year for capital projects and maintenance of schools. Jones said he would like to explore a similar plan for Prince Edward County.

“We can’t keep on going to our landowners and property owners and raising (taxes),” Jones said. “I really think we need to look at this 1-cent (sales) tax. Keep our rates at 43, or maybe go up just a speck.”

Jones said the advantage of increasing the sale tax over property taxes is it garners revenue from those who work in Prince Edward but may not live here.

“We have a lot of professionals who work in our community but don’t live here. And that really does upset me,” Jones said. “I bet you 90% of our doctors and college professors at Longwood don’t even live in our town.”

Jones said the sales tax increase would allow the county to capture money from those professionals with items they purchase here and also money from people who come to Green Front Furniture to shop.

As for the leaky roof of the elementary school, Jones said that needs to be fixed now with money from the county’s fund balance.

The board’s next budget workshop will be Tuesday, April 13, at 5:30 p.m. before its regular monthly meeting at 7 p.m. The public hearing on the budget will be held Tuesday, April 20, at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be available on the county’s YouTube channel.