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‘We opened the door’: Will more follow?

South Boston News
Edmunds’ bill to set local sales tax referendum for HCHS upgrade clears Assembly; others ponder chance to pay for their own projects
SoVaNow.com / February 21, 2019
“It’s definitely the little bill that could.”

The sponsor of House Bill 1634, Del. James Edmunds, offered that assessment Wednesday after his measure cleared one final hurdle in the General Assembly en route to Gov. Ralph Northam for approval.

With Northam expected to sign the bill into law — he could also amend it to broaden the scope of Halifax-only legislation to include other localities — the next big step is likely to be the Halifax County Board of Supervisors authorization of a voter referendum on the November ballot. The referendum would ask county citizens to approve a 1-cent sales tax to finance an upgraded Halifax County High School facility.

“That’s a big lift, too. A very heavy lift,” said Edmunds of getting the referendum passed.

Notwithstanding what happens next, “I think it’s definitely the most important piece of legislation that I’ll ever get through the General Assembly,” Edmunds said of his bill.

He conceded that even he was somewhat surprised by its success: “It’s simply that nobody [in the General Assembly] wanted to be associated with anything even perceived to be a tax increase, even though this was the most organic thing you can think of, in that it would be up to the people” to decide.

The House overwhelmingly approved an amended version on Wednesday after the state Senate made minor changes to the bill during prior voting. The Senate held two votes Tuesday — one with a 30-10 vote outcome, the other 29-11 — as half of the Republican caucus joined with all 19 Senate Democrats to ensure passage of the measure.

On Wednesday, the House held one last vote to reconcile its version of the legislation with the Senate’s. The final vote tally in the House was 77-23.

Because Edmunds’ bill applies only to Halifax County, it was required under floor rules for special legislation to garner two-thirds majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. Not only did the bill easily exceed that threshold, it drew notice from other localities that are struggling with a backlog of unfunded school construction projects.

“This debate wasn’t about Halifax, the debate was about opening the door,” said Halifax County Superintendent of Schools Mark Lineburg. Lineburg said Edmunds’ measure would inspire other localities to pursue their own sales tax referendums to pay for school capital projects.

“That is essentially what we just did — we opened the door to a mechanism that localities haven’t been able to use. That’s gigantic,” he said.

The revenue mechanism — a 1-cent local sales tax, layered on top of the state’s 5.3 cent levy — is expected to generate about $3.5 million in new revenue for Halifax County to apply towards borrowing costs for a high school upgrade. The Halifax County School Board has voted to build an all-new high school facility to replace the 40-year-old HCHS building, at an estimated cost of $100 million. School architects had pegged the cost of fully renovating HCHS at $88 million, with the renovated building including a new wing for career technical education classes.

The sales tax revenue with a 1-cent local levy would cover more than half of the anticipated cost of a $100 million facility, according to school officials.

With passage of Edmunds’ bill, “it gives us a chance now” to go forward with construction of a new HCHS, said Lineburg. “We really have a legitimate project now. I’m not taking anything for granted, but it does legitimize where we’re going.

“We now have a project and a goal to work toward,” Lineburg said.

School Board chair Joe Gasperini suggested that the next step in the process will be a move by trustees to seek requests for proposals from builders for the construction of a new school. “The RFP will go out pretty soon,” Gasperini said.

By going through the process, the School Board will gain a firmer sense of the exact cost and design of a new facility, and Gasperini said the week’s developments will further boost the School Board’s quest to form partnerships with private entities to launch a new school.

“We’ll talk to our private investors,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get a couple of those to drop and move forward. It’s great news.”

With passage by the legislature, Edmunds said there is one more step in seeing the bill through to success: getting the governor to sign it. Edmunds said he has been in touch with a top aide of Northam’s, and “they were honestly surprised it got out of the House and Senate.

“They seemed to be excited about it,” he said.

While Edmunds conceded that he, too, wondered if the bill would pass, he added that the requirement of a local voter referendum made it difficult for lawmakers to argue that anyone’s taxes were being raised, unless citizens did so on their own volition.

“It’s no skin off the teeth of the state, I always said that with my bill.”

Edmunds also said fellow lawmakers have come up to him to express another reason they voted for the measure: “Honestly, the relationships I’ve made with people over time is what most people told me got it through. And I think that’s probably true.”

The four-term lawmaker — Edmunds is running for re-election in the fall — said he had only one immediate concern for the bill in the wake of passage this week: that Northam would amend it to apply to more localities than simply Halifax. “No one thought it would pass and now that it’s passed, everybody wants to be a part of it.”

Widening the reach of the bill would pose a problem, Edmunds said, because one of his main arguments in selling the legislation is that is was crafted to have as limited impact as possible.

Allowing other localities to join along “would be disingenuous to those” who accepted that argument in supporting the bill, he said.

Even if a gubernatorial amendment were to touch off a fight in the legislature, the House and Senate would have the option of rejecting any changes and leaving the original bill for Northam to sign.

“I’ve never had a bill that had this much controversy. I don’t know what to expect but all indications are that it goes through,” said Edmunds.

Gasperini said the passage of a sales tax referendum “is huge for Halifax County” and stressed the importance of meeting the big challenge yet to come: getting it passed.

“I’m very confident that the general public and the vast majority of the community will get behind this [effort] and realize how good it is.” If the referendum succeeds, will mark a turning point for community revitalization, he added: “We’ll never have this opportunity again. This is so good for Halifax County it’s hard to describe.”



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Comments

We need to make sure that this is voted down in November! My family of 4 will be voting against it! I have contacted the governor's office to veto it. I never thought I would see Edmunds become a RINO and go along with the tax an spend leftist socialist democrats. Has everyone forgotten that the American Revolution was fought over unfair taxation?

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"No skin off the teeth of the state" LOL. Yeah, whatever you want to think almighty socialist-delegate.

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SO ture you know me! We need to work to make sure the voters know the truth so this won't pass!

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Exactly, allpolitical2. Hopefully, it won't pass and there will be a challenge in the HoD race.

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I wondered if they thought to put in a Sunset Clause with an ending date for the tax. If no it will go on forever just like the county vehicle tax to build the jail in the 60's. At last look at my county taxes,they are still making me pay for it on each car I own.

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All of you whining about this bill....this is the best way to pay for the school. You vote this down, your property or real estate taxes will go up. That is the other option, and you can't vote on that! They are talking 1 cent on the dollar...so you are spending a whole extra dollar if you spend $100....wow, is that really gonna break you? This is the best way to get money for any project. Even if you don't think the High School needs replacing, it will one day regardless. Would you really rather have your real estate taxes go up? Not me. So stop whining and try to actually support something good for our community. It doesn't matter if you have kids in the school or not...that High School is used for so much more...it is the center of Halifax County. If you want Halifax to remain a stagnant town, then vote against it....but remember that you are voting against helping this county out, and if it fails, you will be the ones responsible.

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Bill are you a native to Halifax? Are you a native Virginian? Does not sound like it. I can see spending some money to remodel it after the court house is paid for! The middle school used to be the high school and was built in the 50's. We need to say NO to any new buildings. The school system needs to be level funded. Population is declining, so don't even need what we got. Other people claim that the SVHEC and the Prizary are the "center of the county". As President Trump said about the shutdown. I will gladly take the responsibility if this fails. We don't need a new school Period! I have told Edmunds that many times. Everyone needs to make sure that we get the vote out NO NEW TAXES!

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Bill, sorry about all the "whining"... Very true allpotical2. They did renovate the middle school and did a damn good job at that. What does happen when the budget for a new high school goes over budget year after year, just like the courthouse? TAXATION IS THEFT

Comments

If Halifax is concerned about attracting people to the county and the school system, the wrong message is being sent by having a police car parked at the front door!! Sheriff Clark get that car to the curb and let the Deputy walk to the front door!! I will watch with interest to see if this is corrected or we continue sending the wrong message!!!

Comments

The photo provided with this story speaks volumes about what's really wrong with the state of the building. The rusty discoloration and general lack of proper maintenance and upkeep is what is most alarming. If a new building does get funded and built I hope that the Halifax School Board gets more proactive on facility cleaning and general appearance. It seems as though the County taxpayers have paid for a high school that has been run in the ground by the school system and has only had a life span of 40 years, totally unacceptable. I also agree the police car parked where it is gives off a very bad public image, looks more like a prison scene than an institute of learning.

Comments

So I hear that Halifax should level fund the schools and cut positions, yet have the money and man power to adequately maintain all of its buildings. The school needs a lot more than a major scrubbing. Maintenance would not have fixed the issues of mortar failing and bricks falling. Routine maintenance can't cure failing galvanized plumbing. They can't miraculously fix the settling of the school. Maintenance can't fix the way to narrow hallways or tiny restroom stalls. When was the last time any of you have been in the high school? The fixes needed aren't cosmetic, they are structural and needed for a modern 21st century education. Halifax County High School is one of the last untouched/renovated high schools in Virginia within hours of here.

And why should it matter if one is native to Halifax or Virginia? All that should matter is if you are a tax payer! No wonder Halifax is dying it is because they don't want anyone to live here unless they worn born and raised here.


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