Isle of Wight again pushes for sales tax legislation to fund schools

Published 4:57 pm Friday, December 8, 2023

Isle of Wight County supervisors are hoping the fourth time’s the charm when it comes to proposed legislation that would allow voters to approve a 1% sales tax increase by local referendum to fund school construction.

Only nine Virginia localities – Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties and the city of Danville – are afforded the option under current state law. State Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, filed a bill on Nov. 25 that would abolish the list and expand the option to all cities and counties.

The issue topped the list of 2024 legislative priorities supervisors voted unanimously to adopt on Nov. 16. The 2024 session is scheduled to begin Jan. 10.

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State Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, had proposed legislation in 2021 and in 2022 that would have added Isle of Wight to the list in hopes of securing an additional source of revenue to pay for the construction of a new Hardy Elementary, which opened its doors to students this September, but both times the bills stalled in the House of Delegates during “crossover,” when each chamber gets to vote on the other’s approved bills. Norment chose not to run for reelection in November and will retire at the end of this year.

Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, had proposed a competing bill in 2022 to expand the taxing authority to all localities. Former state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, revived it in 2023 before being elected in February to replace the late U.S. Rep. A. Donald McEachin, D-Va., in Congress. Hudson’s and McClellan’s bills also each stalled in a House finance subcommittee.

Supervisor Dick Grice, who’s also retiring at the end of this year, had traveled to Richmond to lobby for McClellan’s bill, noting that the county’s plans to replace another aging school – Westside Elementary – would otherwise force the county to put the burden exclusively on homeowners by raising its real estate tax rate.

Grice, at the Nov. 16 meeting, emphasized that the rise in sales tax would only take effect if a majority of county voters approved it by referendum during the next general election. Replacing Westside, which is listed as the School Board’s No. 2 priority in its capital improvements plan, is tentatively scheduled to start during the 2025-26 school year.

The supervisors, in a unanimous June 1 vote, had reduced Isle of Wight’s real estate tax rate for the first time in 16 years to its current 71 cents per $100 in assessed value in an effort to partially offset an average 34% rise in the valuation of single-family homes during the 2023 reassessment. But without the sales tax option, the relief may be short-lived.

Grice had told the House finance subcommittee in February that paying for Westside, estimated in early 2022 to cost $66 million, could entail adding another 8 cents to the formerly 85-cent-per-$100 rate in place prior to June. A grant application by Isle of Wight County Schools submitted to the state in November estimated the current cost of replacing Westside at $71 million.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct when IWCS submitted its grant application for Westside.