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Halifax County Supes take first step to raise tax rate, but decision awaits full vote / March 25, 2013
The Halifax County Board of Supervisors has taken a first step towards raising the real estate tax rate by 2 cents to pay for needs that include renovations to the Halifax Courthouse and more money for local schools.

The final decision on whether to raise taxes, however, must await a vote by the full board, which is likely to come next Monday, April 1.

The supervisors’ Finance Committee recommended Thursday that the real estate tax rate be hiked from 45 cents to 47 cents, levied per $100 in real estate value. The three-person committee — chaired by Doug Bowman and including J.T. Davis and William Fitzgerald — unanimously backed the recommendation.

The panel’s call to raise the property tax comes on the heels of a public hearing last week on the proposed 2013-14 budget which included the higher, 47 cent rate. However, several supervisors at the time indicated they were strongly opposed to any move to raise taxes.

The proposed budget already incorporates a spate of fee increases, on items ranging from vehicle and motorcycle decals to dog tags to business licenses. The fee increases are expected to generate $638,850 in new revenue, although overall, spending in the new budget is a half-million dollars less than in the current version.

The Finance Committee saw a need to put some spending items back into the budget. Half of the new tax revenue— $359,000, representing 1 cent of the proposed rate increase — would go towards fixing a longstanding problem for the county, the dilapidated condition of the courthouse in Halifax.

Bowman reminded fellow committee members that bids for engineering and architecture will be going out soon and the engineering and planning work should begin as early as August. Bowman said the county will have to start spending money on the courthouse project during the coming year and has no choice but to begin the work. The county must come up with a budget allocation for the Courthouse as a result.

Also, the Finance Committee agreed to give the schools an additional $240,000, bringing the proposed increase in local education funding to $600,000.

In explaining the recommendation, Bowman said the school administration under Merle Herndon has worked hard to implement recommendations in last year’s Efficiency Study, and supervisors should support this effort after nearly five years trying to get the study carried out.

Davis was quick to add that the school administration had already followed one recommendation — cutting $195,000 from the budget by streamlining the cost of its custodial staff.

Davis also expressed concerns about teacher pay, noting that a recent survey showed local teachers near the bottom of the pay scale when compared with neighboring areas. “We simply can’t afford to lose our best and brightest teachers.” He said the increase in local funding would enable the school division to provide teachers with a 2 percent raise for the coming year.

The three finance members discussed several other potential changes to the coming’s year budget, which goes into effect July 1. With the school division on track to receive $240,000, the county would have about $119,000 left to devote to other needs. (The sum represents the money left over from the second penny increase in the tax rate. Each one-cent hike generates $359,000).

Panel members suggested a cut of only $50,000 to IDA operations rather than the $100,000 cut proposed in the staff recommendation. They also considered purchasing an additional set of personal protective equipment for firefighters and rescue squad members, a request that would cost $26,000.

Also considered was the payment of Chamber of Commerce annual dues of $3,200. “We have to remember that the Chamber was very instrumental in helping to get the meals tax passed last year,” Bowman reminded the panel.

Bowman said he also wants to consider paying the annual dues of $3,930 to the Roanoke River Basin Association which this year played a major role in fighting to keep the ban on uranium mining.

If all four of those suggested were followed, the Board would still have some $36,000 to divvy up, and Fitzgerald wanted to leave question marks by the request from the Longwood Small Business Center for $10,738 which would be matched by a similar amount from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Fitzgerald placed more question marks beside the $14,697 cut from the Tourism Department budget and the $2,594 needed to support the County’s share of operations for Old Dominion RC&D.

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I have spoken to two members of the finacne committee, they all said they were against a tax increase! Cut some more from the budget. Only give the IDA ZERO! Why should the Chamber get 3000 from the county?

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