LETTER — What’s a penny worth?

Published 9:49 am Thursday, September 17, 2020

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Earlier this year the Charlotte County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to have a referendum placed on the ballot on November 3.

The question on the ballot will read as follows:  “Should Charlotte County, Virginia, be authorized to levy an additional local general retail sales tax at a rate not to exceed one percent (1%), provided that the revenues from the additional sales tax shall be used solely for capital projects for new construction or major renovation of schools in the county, including bond and loan financing costs related to such construction or renovation?  If this additional sales tax is levied, it shall expire on August 1, 2050.”

To be clear, as county administrator, it’s not my job to tell you how to vote, but to provide the facts that allow each voter to make an informed and educated vote. A 1% sales tax is equivalent to 1 cent on each dollar spent on certain retail items, not including “food purchased for human consumption or essential personal hygiene products” (§ 58.1-611.1). Some might say, it’s just a penny, but in reality, it means an estimated $300,000 annually to improve and maintain the schools that approximately 1,770 children in our community attend each school year.

Sure, there are other options, so I would like to consider a few of them. The school system has developed a five-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The plan includes the  major needs the schools anticipate in the coming years. Each year the plan is updated and projects that have been completed come off the list and new projects are added. In March 2019, the five-year CIP funding needs for the schools totaled just over $2.3 million. However, no funding was appropriated by the county to meet these identified needs and renovations. I am beginning my third year as county administrator and in past years the county may not have been able to afford to provide funds to the schools on a regular basis for renovations and capital projects. While likely unintentional, ‘doing nothing’ is an option.

A second option is increasing taxes to pay for the school systems’ CIP. The Board of Supervisors has two options: raise real estate taxes or raise personal property taxes. A 1-cent increase in real estate tax rates generates about $100,000. In my first year as county administrator, the board raised real estate taxes to 62 cents per $100 valuation and personal property taxes to $3.95 per $100 valuation to pay for debt associated with renovations to several of the schools. Although the decision was necessary to raise the needed funds, based on feedback I have received, it was not popular with the vast majority of citizens.

By placing this question on the ballot on November 3, the Board of Supervisors has given you, the voter, the opportunity, responsibility and ultimately, the final say, to decide what is best for Charlotte County Schools. You have a choice to vote ‘yes for Charlotte County Schools.’ However, if the referendum does not pass, the Board of Supervisors, as your representatives in Charlotte County, will be required to choose another option to fund capital projects for new construction or major renovation of schools in the county.  As a voter, the choice is yours.

Daniel Witt

County Administrator