Sales tax needed for new schools

Published 5:25 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Isle of Wight County residents should be pulling for legislation in Richmond that would allow for a one-cent sales tax increase to help fund school construction.

The Senate this month approved SB 1170, which would make Isle of Wight the 10th locality in the state to have permission to raise sales taxes for school-related capital projects. Unfortunately, the bill was “laid on the table” by a House subcommittee, diminishing its chances of passage this session. We hope it is revived.

Appropriately, the tax hike would have to be approved by county voters in a referendum. If given that opportunity by the General Assembly, we hope voters will bless it.

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The additional sales tax would generate about $2.3 million annually to support new buildings for Hardy Elementary and Westside Elementary. Hardy will cost an estimated $27 million and Westside will cost $40 million, and county officials are committed to both projects regardless of how they are funded. Supervisors approved $30 million in general obligation bonds last fall.

Without the sales tax increase to help fund the debt service on the projects, the burden will fall entirely on property owners.

“The revenue generated from the additional sales tax can be used to pay the debt service for the school construction projects,” said Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson. “If SB1170 does not advance, additional revenue would be needed to pay the debt service. The additional revenue needed would necessitate an increase in local revenues equivalent to a 4 to 5 cents increase in real estate taxes.”

A sales tax would allow renters, of whom there are many with kids in public schools, to help fund the new schools. Also, those who live elsewhere but commute to Isle of Wight for work would contribute any time they purchased a meal or tank of gas inside the county.

Those who own real estate would still shoulder most of the responsibility, but anything to lessen their burden is welcome.

We hope the Virginia House ultimately follows the lead of the Senate, which overwhelmingly approved the bill in a 31-8 vote. Lawmakers owe communities like Isle of Wight flexibility in funding essential capital expenses like new schools.