Editorial – Governor should sign school Construction bill

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Say what you will about poor management of public school finances in Isle of Wight, but the reality of the need for new and better facilities in the years ahead is inescapable, as a letter writer points out elsewhere on this page.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin can be part of the solution by signing a bill on his desk to allow communities to levy a 1% sales tax for school construction if their voters pass a referendum to do so.

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, our Stephen Faleski reported in last week’s edition. Both the state House of Delegates and state Senate, after years of unsuccessful legislation, gave bipartisan support this year to expanding the option to all localities. We were pleased that Isle of Wight’s and Surry’s legislators unanimously voted in favor.

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Isle of Wight County, one of Virginia’s fastest-growing, has long pushed for the sales tax option. If voters agreed, it would provide a funding source for retiring $30 million in debt for the new Hardy Elementary and for building a new Westside Elementary, which is sorely needed. 

If Youngkin signs the legislation, the Board of Supervisors would need to initiate the referendum process by passing a resolution petitioning the Circuit Court to put the question on the ballot during an upcoming election, Faleski reported. If a majority of voters approve the tax, the supervisors would be granted the authority to adopt a sales tax ordinance beginning the 1% surcharge on the first day of a month at least 120 days after the ordinance’s adoption.

As we’ve written in this space before, we fully grasp both sides of the debate over the fairest method of taxation. Consumption taxes aren’t our favorite, but the steep price tag of school construction needs more than one funding source. Property owners cannot alone shoulder the burden. A sales tax allows renters, who make up a substantial part of Isle of Wight’s population and many of whom send their children to public schools, to contribute to the cost of excellent school facilities. 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. 

A 1% sales tax would generate more than $2 million annually, not nearly enough to pay outright the tens of millions of dollars required to build a new school these days, but enough to help cover the debt service each year if county supervisors have to borrow the money.