Sales tax bills pass Senate

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Two competing bills that would each allow Isle of Wight County to raise its sales tax 1% to fund school construction projects passed Virginia’s Senate this week.

State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) had proposed legislation last year that would have made Isle of Wight the 10th Virginia locality authorized to enact the tax, which passed the Senate but stalled in a House of Delegates subcommittee. Norment reintroduced the legislation as Senate Bill 37 for the 2022 session, which also passed the Senate in a 27-12 vote on Jan. 24.

Dissenting votes came from Sens. Amanda Chase, John Cosgrove, Bill DeSteph, Emmett Hanger, Jennifer Kiggans, Ryan McDougle, Stephen Newman, Mark Peake, Bryce Reeves, Richard Stuart, and David Suetterlein — all Republicans.

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Then, on Jan. 25, the Senate passed Senate Bill 472, which would allow any Virginia locality the option of raising its sales tax 1% via a referendum to fund school construction projects — effectively doing away with Virginia’s past practice of approving piecemeal requests from localities for the sales tax option.

Senate Bill 472, sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), passed with a 28-12 vote. The bill secured 22 “aye” votes from Democrats and another six “ayes” from Republicans, including Norment.

The same 12 Republicans who voted against Norment’s bill also voted against McClellan’s.

Isle of Wight officials had hoped to use the resulting revenue in lieu of raising real estate taxes to fund the replacement of the county’s Hardy and Westside elementary schools — both of which date to the 1960s.

The county had borrowed $34 million in 2020, budgeting $27 million for the Hardy project, but inflation and a pandemic-induced supply chain breakdown drove the cost to $36.8 million last year — resulting in a new $10 million gap in available funds. The cost of supplying water to the new school and surrounding area also increased from a 2020 estimate of $2.2 million to roughly $4.8 million as of December.

Isle of Wight’s Board of Supervisors voted on Jan. 20 to proceed with plans to borrow an additional $19 million for Hardy and other capital needs. The move would effectively defund and postpone the county’s plans for Westside, unless another revenue source is found.

Isle of Wight’s School Board has scheduled a special Jan. 26 meeting in Westside’s auditorium to discuss, among other matters, the school system’s long-term plans to replace the grades 4-6 school with a larger middle school that would house grades 5-7. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m., and include a tour of the current Westside’s facilities.