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$35 mil more added to Mecklenburg school project budget

SoVaNow.com / December 11, 2019
The Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors agreed Monday night to increase the construction budget for the consolidated secondary school in Baskerville by another $35 million, bringing the total to $152,380,000.

The new amount covers construction costs of $124,950,000, land acquisition at $1,788,032, architect and engineer fees of $10,858,420, an allowance for furniture, fixtures, equipment and technology of $3,618,750, inspection and testing fees of $620,785, other consultant fees of $216,663, infrastructure costs (relocation of existing electrical, fiber and other utilities) of $597,238, and other project costs (moving, construction of a barn and two green houses, plantings, legal and closing sites, among others) of $4,913,706.

Supervisor Jim Jennings was the lone member to vote against the increase. He did so, Jennings said, not because he is opposed to schools or their need for new facilities, but because he felt the architects and construction managers had misled the Board when they said last year that the new facility could be built for $120 million.

In prior meetings lead architect Billy Upton of Ballou Justice Upton told supervisors that last year no one could have predicted the dramatic rise in construction costs – nearly $100 per square foot – or the current building climate that allows contractors to ask for and receive top dollar for their services.

Several board members, among them Sterling Wilkinson and David Brankley expressed their displeasure with having to spend another $35 million on the project, but felt they had no alternative. They along with Board Vice Chair Gregg Gordon said their decision to support the increase was made easier after hearing that the County could absorb the expense without having to raise taxes.

Ted Cole of Davenport & Company, the financial advisor for the county, met with members of the Budget and Finance Committee on Dec. 3 ahead of the meeting of the full board, to explain the county’s current financial position and how to fund the additional $35 million expense with no tax increase.

He said Mecklenburg County has existing tax supported debt of just under $90 million. These are from amounts borrowed in 2003, 2006, 2017 and 2018 to pay for school construction — both South Hill Elementary and the consolidated secondary campus in Baskerville. Mecklenburg makes annual payments of just over $6.2 million on this debt but will need another $2.2 million to cover the cost of annual payments on the $35 million.

Cole said the county can absorb this new debt into its budget as long as revenues continue to grow by between 2 and 6 percent per year. For the past three years, Mecklenburg has experienced “strong growth” in its tax base of between 5 and 10 percent, according to County Administrator Wayne Carter.

If the county does not adjust its tax rate on real estate next year — following the reassessment of real property — but keeps the rate at 42 cents per hundred, and “with expected growth, we should not need any additional tax increases to service the proposed debt,” Carter said.

The county will participate in the next VPSA borrowing pool in March to fund the $35 million. VPSA or Virginia Public School Authority provides financing to localities for capital projects for public schools.

With the budget approved, supervisors also authorized the school board to move forward on the project by entering into a contract with Cleveland Construction to serve as general contractor. The Charlotte, N.C.-based company submitted the low bid of $124,950,000. The other bids, from Branch Builds, Charles Perry Partners and Howard Shockey & Sons, ranged from $126,533,000 to $127,935,000.

Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols said school trustees will meet on Dec. 10 to formally award the general construction contract to Cleveland Construction, Inc. and invited supervisors to the official groundbreaking set for Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. at the site, at the corner of Wooden Bridge Road and Highway 58 in Baskerville.

In other school related business, supervisors approved a request from the School Board for a supplemental appropriation from the textbook fund of $234,031 to cover the cost of new middle school language arts and high school history books.

Board members, without objection agreed to ask Del. Tommy Wright and state Sen. Frank Ruff to introduce legislation authorizing the county to hold a referendum for a 1 percent local sales tax to raise money for school construction projects. A similar bill granting Halifax County citizens a chance to implement the sales tax was approved last year. The referendum vote that took place in November passed by an overwhelming majority, 71 percent.

Carter said Mecklenburg County would collect additional annual revenues of $5 million or more if voters in the county could approve a similar sales tax increase. This money would go a long way toward paying for much-needed upgrades to three aging elementary schools, Chase City, Clarksville and La Crosse.

The tax increase, which is one cent on top of the existing 5.3 cent state sales tax, would sunset once the construction costs were paid.

Supervisors David Brankley stressed the need for school trustees, business and government leaders and the public to speak up in support of this legislation because, “with [legislators from] northern Virginia controlling the legislature, it will be an uphill battle.”

Ruff and Wright have both expressed willingness to sponsor and support the bill.

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Comments

Can't believe that Fank is supporting this. James Edmunds is to blame for this. It is time that a real conservative republican stood up to run against him!

Comments

You're right allpolitical2, Delegate James Edmunds IS to blame for this new taxation trend. It will sweep across Southern Virginia, locality by locality. until the cost of living increases to levels like it is in Northern Virginia. This is a serious situation that will negatively impact low-to-moderate income taxpayers and drive young folks away even quicker. The current low taxes is a major benefit in order to attempt to retain local people here but that too will vanish soon enough thanks to the political smoke and mirrors game being played here.


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