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Halifax County supes eye 2¢ tax hike to cover school contribution

SoVaNow.com / March 04, 2021
The draft budget for Halifax County local government in the coming year includes money to raise county employee pay by four percent, boost flagging compensation for county dispatchers, and meet other department needs.

The budget also calls for a two-cent increase in the county’s real estate tax, upping the rate to 52 cents per $100 in value.

Originally presented to the Halifax County Board of Supervisors without any changes to real estate and personal property tax rates, the draft budget — nearly $116 million in size — was based on a proposed reduction in the county’s contribution to the school operating budget, with local funding slated to fall from $14 million in the current budget year to $13,730,322 in fiscal year 2021/22.

That proved to be problematic.

With both houses of the General Assembly coming to an agreement on the state’s biennial budget last week, teachers will receive five percent raises over the current and upcoming fiscal year. The new fiscal year begins July 1 and runs through June 30, 2022.

With that budget agreement, both the House and the Senate are mandating that Halifax County increase its required local contribution to K-12 education — with the Senate setting the number at $14,135,789, the House at $14,244,455.

At the higher number, supervisors would be looking at a budget shortfall of $514,123.

“I hate to do it, but we have to cover ourselves,” said ED-4 supervisor Ronnie Duffey, explaining the need for the proposed tax increase.

Other board members who took part in a Monday afternoon session of the Budget and Finance committee pointed out, however, that once supervisors advertise a budget, they retain the option to lower the advertised tax rate. Once advertised, tax rates can only be approved at the stated levels, or lowered; to raise rates, the Board would have to hold a new vote on the budget and advertise the revisions a second time.

ED-2 supervisor Jeff Francisco, who chairs the finance committee, voted grudgingly to advertise the budget and tax increase. “We don’t have to vote for it” when it comes time to actually approve the package.

Francisco expressed that he is tired of giving the School Board money and the trustees do not give raises to teachers and school support staff. “We have given them $14 million and the administration gets raises,” said Francisco, adding that teacher salaries need to be in line with compensation levels for teachers in surrounding counties.

In fact, last year the School Board approved a blend of employee salary increases that worked out to roughly a 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers, four percent for non-teacher support staff, and one percent for administrators. The teacher raises consisted of two parts: a one percent increase in base pay, and the restoration of a step in the teacher step pay scale, under which salaries rise for teachers with each year of service.

With the numbers still in flux — the School Board has not received final numbers from the Virginia Department of Education on the amount of K-12 funding that Halifax County will receive from the state — school officials say they nevertheless will have to provide teacher raises in the coming year.

At a minimum, those increases are expected to be on par with the 2.5 percent hike given last spring, to satisfy the legislature’s requirement for a two-year, five percent raise.

“There’s going to be an increase in the local requirement [for school funding],” said Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg. The School Board will discuss its budget further at the next meeting on Monday.

The county’s contribution to schools also includes money not included in the operating budget — namely, roughly $4.7 million in debt service on school facilities, largely stemming from the construction of South Boston and Cluster Springs elementary schools and renovations to the middle school in the early 2000s. That money is not considered under the state’s formula for setting a required local effort (RLE) for school operations.

The original school contribution of $13.7 million envisioned by supervisors was based on a budget proposal by Gov. Ralph Northam, released in December. The Governor’s budget sought a two percent one-time bonus in teacher pay. With state revenues coming in above projections, the General Assembly opted to boost pay for SOQ instructional positions by five percent over the biennium, an idea which Northam has endorsed. The state budget also includes pay raises for Virginia State Police, state-supported employees, university and college staff and corrections personnel.

The draft county budget provides a four percent raise to county staff, and has money for a $2,000 pay boost to dispatchers to help make their pay more competitive with the salaries offered by nearby localities.

Supervisors discussed the idea of creating specific spending categories to govern the county’s contribution to the school budget — identifying sums that would be spent on employee pay and other priorities. County Administrator Scott Simpson pointed to one source of ongoing frustration for the School Board: the lack of progress in fixing teacher step pay scales, which were thrown out of alignment with no teacher pay increases in the aftermath of the Great Recession. Simpson said trustees have not spelled out how they propose to fix the issue, at a likely cost of more than $1 million annually.

“I have never seen a plan on how to improve salaries,” said Simpson.

Duffey and ED-8 supervisor William Bryant Claiborne expressed qualms over the idea of reducing the local contribution to the school operating budget, with Claiborne pointing out that it would look bad to give county staff a four percent pay hike and not do the same for school employees, who fall under the separate budget of the School Board.

“It would be demeaning to me if I was a teacher and see the county employees receiving the four percent increase,” Claiborne said.

“I see we are cutting the school system again” with the required local effort, said Duffey.

In the current year, the county contribution to the school budget is $14 million, down from the year before, when the figure was $14.4 million.

However, Francisco faulted the School Board for budgeting for more than it spends — pointing out how the board ended the previous fiscal year with a $2 million budget surplus, which supervisors allowed trustees to spend on capital improvements, in addition to setting aside a portion of the carryover funds in reserve.

Several supervisors voiced support for holding a joint meeting with trustees to resolve differences between the two boards over money issues.

“We need to have a special call meeting to discuss teacher salaries,” said Claiborne. “This way we won’t open a war.”

“It behooves us to cooperate with the School Board,” added Vice Chairman Garland Ricketts, who said both boards need to come together with an understanding of how to balance educational priorities with a declining Halifax County population and tax base.

“We have to recognize our population is older, there is a lower birth rate, a lower enrollment rate, more students are learning at home due to COVID-19, and fewer teachers are required,” said Ricketts.

Supervisors Chair Hubert Pannell said he has been in contact with school board chairman Kathy Fraley, with regards to holding a combined meeting by the two boards. It would be the first time the boards have met together in some time, supervisors pointed out, with several sharing concerns about staying on topic and for the meeting to not turn into an argument.

Supervisors agreed on a meeting involving the chair and vice chair of both boards, with Simpson and Lineburg included in the discussion. Francisco signaled his agreement with the idea by giving two thumbs-up.

With the proposed two-cent increase in the real estate tax, Halifax’s 52-cent rate would remain below that of all its neighbors except Mecklenburg, which taxes real estate at 42 cents per $100 — a low rate made possible by tax revenues generated by the Microsoft cloud computing complex in Boydton.

Mecklenburg’s school board is seeking pay raises of 3-5 percent for its teachers, higher than the amount required by the state and more than what Halifax officials are calling for.

The closest comparison to Halifax’s real estate tax rate, even with a 2-cent increase, is Campbell County, with a current rate of 52 cents per $100. In Pittsylvania and Charlotte counties, the real estate tax is 62 cents per $100.

Halifax County’s personal property tax rate of $3.85 on cars, boats and other vehicles is lower than that of all its neighbors save Mecklenburg, which assesses a tax of $3.36 on personal property.

Real estate taxes provide 44 percent of county government revenue. Out of the total budget, 34 percent is spent on schools, with the majority of that money passing down to Halifax County from state and federal governments. The next two largest expenditure categories are public safety/police (19 percent) and debt service (17 percent.)

A public hearing and work session on the budget is scheduled for Monday, March 15 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at the Mary Bethune Complex. Later, the budget and finance committee will hold a work session on March 29 to have a budget ready for adoption at the Board of Supervisors’ regular monthly meeting on Monday, April 5.


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Comments

here we go.tax inceases for a year in which schools didn't teach we could use Virginia online $4k a student,and put money saved from deadbeat teachers into broadband. the spend it crowd jockeying to give county a second build project in which deliberately lowered estimated costs suddenly double originally estimates needed complete teh project ala Courthouse.schools in Halifax are not delivering,they run empty buses wasting fuel & equipment during covid, they make lunches each day causesome idiot signed an agreement to keep buying food even when schools are closed.If the schools were delivering it would be less of an issue. school numbers are decreasing since many have figured out they can get a much better education line than through govt indoctrination. IFor a tax increase we demand to know how teh school system deliverables will greatly improve, especially if we are raisng teacher salaries in a time of online instruction. all cards on the table

Comments

Would someone please tell me why this idiot BOS feels like it’s ok to match higher taxes with the higher income counties surrounding us. We are a very poor county and have few jobs in this area. They are driving people to leave, but they continue to raise taxes. These fools don’t learn!!

Comments

This is just crazy. We need to throw out all the ones that support this. Sorry you can cut just as easy as you can raise.


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