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Charlotte mulls new school, tax hike

A potential tax increase to fund a new elementary school is a hot topic in Charlotte County.

Current options being considered include “the construction of a consolidated elementary school, estimated at an approximate amount of $26 million,” or building a smaller 450-student school to replace Bacon and Phenix elementary schools, according to school funding materials provided by Davenport and Co.

If the county chooses to obtain funding through the Virginia Public School Authority (VPSA), an amortization term of up to 30 years may be utilized.

However, a variety of school funding scenarios are available, according to Davenport — the county’s financial advisor — which outlines that “the incremental tax impacts associated with additional debt issuance.” Furthermore, the figures provided by Davenport at a recent Board of Supervisors meeting included a base case, which encompassed recent financing for the courthouse project obtained through Virginia Resources Authority (VRA).

The report from Davenport also explained that “as part of the FY 2016 budget, the County’s real estate tax rate was increased by 5 cents to help fund the new Courthouse debt service.” The real estate tax rate in Charlotte County is currently 53 cents per $100 of assessed value, which took effect on July 1.

Construction options were presented to the county for possible elementary school alternatives ranging from the low end of $14 million to more than $26 million. According to scenario one provided by Davenport, if the county chooses to build a consolidated elementary school at an estimated $26 million, the proposed tax equivalent impact for fiscal year 2016 would be 5 cents per $100 of assessed property value. In light of this, a net debt of over $51 million would be created.

“ I personally don’t think we can afford to do that much” said Gary Walker, a member of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors. Additionally, the real estate tax equivalent impact for fiscal year 2017 would be 8.24 cents and 9.19 cents for the following year, according to the materials provided by Davenport and Company. These figures equal out to a total tax equivalent impact of 22.44 cents and a school tax equivalent impact of 17.44 cents, detached from the recent 5 cent tax increase in light of the recent courthouse project.  This would bring the current real estate tax to a total of 70.44 cents per $100 of assessed value. To put this into perspective, the average homeowner of a home assessed at $150,000 would have an annual real estate tax bill of $1,116.

“I can’t see how the county can take on all of this debt” said Haywood Hamlett, the chairman of the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors. “It’s a tough decision for me.” However, Hamlett assured “we’re definitely gonna take a close look at it and do the best we can.”

On the other end of the spectrum, scenario two, a $14 million project would accrue an estimated net debt service of over $27.6 million. With this scenario, residents of Charlotte could be faced with a proposed tax increase of 5 cents for fiscal year 2016, 4.06 cents for the following year and 5.66 cents for the year after that, according to the materials provided by Davenport and Company. Ultimately, taxpayers would be looking at a total tax increase of 14.73 cents and a school tax equivalent impact of 9.73 cents, not including the 5 cents tax increase associated with the new courthouse project. This would mean a possible real estate tax rate of 63.73 cents per $100 of assessed value.

“We need to keep the cost as low as possible,” said Robert “Butch” Shook Jr., a member of the board of supervisors. “I don’t believe that we can abandon Eureka.” However, Shook also said that something needed to be done for the students of Phenix and Bacon as well.

Local taxpayers were recently given the opportunity to weigh in on the proposals. “Let’s do what’s best for the children of Charlotte County,” said Charlotte resident Walter Bailey. He said that busing children across the county would not be in the best interest of the students.

In addition, Bailey expressed the need for a plan that will cater to the taxpayers and take care of the needs of the schools simultaneously.

Desiree Evans Lee, another county resident, said, “I think if my taxes will be going up, I want it to be for something that will benefit my child rather than making them travel hours on a bus.”

Currently there is no timetable for a decision on the proposed school project. The school board will meet with supervisors again in October to discuss the topic.