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Mecklenburg County sales tax bill makes headway at State Capitol / January 29, 2020
Mecklenburg County is a step closer to authorizing a 1-percent local sales tax to pay for school construction projects following action this week in the Virginia State Senate.

Senate Bill 943, sponsored by Clarksville Republican Frank Ruff, is on its way to the House of Delegates for consideration after the upper chamber passed the measure on a 24-14 vote.

The bill would allow the Mecklenburg County Board of Supervisors to approve a ballot initiative this fall to enact the 1-cent sales tax, which would be tacked on top of the state sales and use tax of 5.3 cents. If approved, the local sales tax would generate around $4 million annually, according to county estimates.

Before the proposed sales tax can go into effect, it would have to win the support of a majority of county voters.

Explaining why he agreed to sponsor the legislation, Ruff said, “I believe it is good policy for the state to allow the citizens of Mecklenburg County to spread the cost of school construction between extra sales tax or higher real estate and real property taxes.”

Ruff added, “Some portion of the tax would be paid by those visiting or passing through the county rather than being entirely on the citizens of the county.”

Money raised from the tax would used solely to pay for new school construction or major school renovation projects, and the tax would sunset after 20 years or once school construction or renovation work is finished, whichever is longer.

Two members of the Senate did not take part in the 24-14 vote to send the bill to the House of Delegates. All 14 “no” votes were cast by Senate Republicans.

School Board Chair Gavin Honeycutt said he was thrilled that the Senate favors giving Mecklenburg County voters the right to decide how best to fund school-related capital projects.

In the House of Delegates, four similar bills calling for local option sales taxes to pay for school capital needs are under consideration. Among these pieces of legislation are HB 200, filed by Del. Tommy Wright. It is the companion bill in the House to Ruff’s SB 943.

The other three sales and use tax bills pending at the General Assembly are:

» Senate Bill 224, which would give Gloucester County the authority to impose a similar sales and use tax if approved by the voters. State Sen. Tommy Norment introduced the measure, which passed out of the Senate on Jan. 20 on a 27-12 vote. The chief patron of the bill in the House is Del. Keith Hodges.

» House Bill 486 and HB 1631 are being considered in the House Committee on Finance. HB 486, which applies to Henry and Pittsylvania counties and the City of Danville, was introduced by Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville. House Bill 1631, which proposes a 1-percent sales tax in Charlotte County was introduced by Delegate James Edmunds, R-Halifax.

A fifth bill, SB 1028 introduced by state Sen. Lynwood Lewis, would authorize Northampton County to pursue the referendum for sales and use tax. It is still in committee in the Senate.

The proposed sales tax would not apply to the purchase of goods or services not currently subject to the state retail sales tax, such as groceries, medications or automobiles.

Under current law, only Halifax County has the authority to impose a local sales tax to fund school capital needs. Halifax County voters overwhelmingly approved the sales tax in 2019, after Del. Edmunds won approval in the General Assembly for his bill giving Halifax County the authority to hold a sales tax referendum.

Supervisors and School Board trustees in Mecklenburg asked Wright and Ruff to introduce companion bills on the county’s behalf after seeing construction cost estimates for the Baskerville secondary school complex rise from $120 million to nearly $153 million in less than a year. Supervisors had initially planned to spend about $150 million to build the new consolidated school campus and renovate three aging elementary school buildings in Chase City, Clarksville, and La Crosse.

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