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Why our community should say YES for Schools / October 24, 2019
Halifax County Administrator
Special to the News & Record

To the citizens of Halifax County, it has been a pleasure to serve as your County Administrator for the past nine months. Halifax County is poised for even greater success in the coming future, but that success will not come without challenges. One of the significant challenges we are facing is the age and condition of our school facilities and how to address the need for capital improvements to those facilities.

Part of my job as your County Administrator is to advise the Board of Supervisors of long range planning; to not only look at today and tomorrow, but to look out over the horizon to identify our next challenges we will be facing down the road, and to ensure we are prepared for them both administratively and financially.

By saying YES for Schools !! we thank our Delegate James Edmunds and the General Assembly for this special opportunity.

Halifax County has a phenomenal opportunity on Tuesday, November 5th to help ourselves manage a significant piece of this long range planning with the ability to generate additional revenues which will be solely dedicated to the improvement of our school facilities through the passage of the 1% sales tax referendum. This is likely one of the most important decisions the citizens of Halifax County will make in the history of the County.

The referendum language specifically states 3 things:

» The sales tax is capped at a maximum of 1%

» The tax expires and sunsets no later than 2051

» Revenues can only be used exclusively for the construction or renovation of schools

By saying YES for Schools !!, the collection of the sales tax revenue frees up the need to find funds from within the general County structure.

Payment for any version of improvements will require the County to find revenues outside of those currently budgeted. At this time, the most pressing facility need is the high school which requires immediate minimal improvements for accessibility, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical components which are well past their useful life. Beyond the previously mentioned immediate needs, the high school facility improvements include plans for increasing operational efficiency and enhancing the educational environment. The approval of the 1% sales tax will relieve the reliance on other county taxable components to achieve these improvements.

By saying YES for Schools !!, we have the opportunity to allow those who live outside of our County to help pay for part of our infrastructure.

The 1% sales tax is estimated to generate $3.3 million annually towards school renovation and construction. It is also conservatively estimated that at least 20% (potentially well over $700,000) of these annual revenues will come from visitors to our great County. The resulting portion of the tax collections from Halifax citizens on a per household basis equates to roughly $12 per month, or less than 2 small fast food meals. Of course, sales tax is, by its nature, a proportional tax based upon spendable income and which also differentiates between food, medicine, and consumer goods.

By saying YES for Schools !!, we insulate our local businesses from other tax increases.

One of the concerns I hear during visits throughout the County is how this additional 1% tax will hurt small business by driving purchasers out of the County. However, looking at the reality of that concern, by increasing the sales tax from 5.3% to 6.3% on even a very large purchase of $500 generates $5 of additional sales tax, which is less than the cost of the fuel necessary to drive out of the County and back. The proposed 6.3% is still lower than the range of 6.75% to 7.25% charged at bordering counties in North Carolina. By consumers participating in this tax and the County not generating new revenues from adjustments to the limited sources we have, all businesses and citizens prosper.

By saying YES for Schools !!, we preserve general revenues for addressing other future operational and school system challenges.

Another concern I hear often is how the revenues will be used solely for high school improvements and the rest of the schools in the County will be left out. I do concede the generated revenues from a sales tax will likely be pledged for the high school needs; however, this is where our long range planning hats need to be put on.

In 2027, $4.7 million of annual debt payments related to South Boston Elementary, Cluster Springs Elementary, and the middle school renovations will be completed. By saying YES for Schools !!, on November 5th, we significantly reduce the need to largely dip into these freed up funds after 2027 and thusly preserve them for future use towards the remaining schools in the County. This referendum is indeed directly related to all schools in the County by preserving these future funds for addressing our coming challenges in those facilities.

By saying YES for Schools !! we are picking a perfect time for the financing of a project.

Before you buy or remodel a home or look for a new car, you need to know where your funding will come from, and have the income to pay it back. At this point in late 2019, the financing market for municipal funding is very strong in our favor. Premiums are being paid for investments into government capital projects and interest rates are very low making it an ideal time for the financing of a project and saving tens of millions of dollars over the life of the financing versus the past few years’ interest rates. The lion’s share of the revenues pledged for the annual payments must come from the 1% sales tax and not from general fund revenues in order to provide for the most optimal financing scenario for our County.

By saying YES for Schools !! we are proactively planning for the next decade and beyond.

Citizens of Halifax County, let’s not only look at today and tomorrow, but let’s look long range into the future in order to be prepared for our next challenges and to help ourselves maneuver around those challenges with the most financial flexibility possible.

South Boston News
From left, first row, James Edmunds, Mark Estes, Betty Adams, Kristy Johnson, Mitzi McCormick, Lauren Felton, Mark Lineburg, and Michael Lewis. Second row, Tom Raab, Scott Worner, Scott Simpson, Garland Ricketts, Brian Brown, Grey Watson, and Jeff Francisco. (Blakely Swanson photo)

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