Republicans in the House of Delegates have killed a bill that would have allowed Charlottesville and Albemarle County to raise the area’s sales tax to fund school renovation and construction.
“We are sorry this didn’t go forward,” Charlottesville School Board Chair James Bryant told The Daily Progress in a written statement on Wednesday. “It would have been such a straightforward solution – letting local people vote on a local tax to support local school construction.”
The bill passed the state Senate on Jan. 23 in a 27-10 vote that garnered bipartisan support. A House finance subcommittee tabled the bill on Feb. 17 in a 5-2 party-line vote. The bill was left in the House on Wednesday.
If signed into law, the bill would have allowed the city and the county to bring an up-to-1% sales tax hike to their respective voters, who would have then decided whether they were willing to take on the extra cost at the register. Each locality could have decided if it wanted to exclude a certain kind of good from the tax hike, such as groceries, officials had said.
A 1% increase would have generated roughly $14 million for Charlottesville City Schools and $20 million for Albemarle County Public Schools, according to city and county officials.
“That’s a huge, huge amount,” Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Donna Price told The Daily Progress after the bill passed the Senate.
Albemarle County Public Schools spokesman Phil Giaramita told The Daily Progress on Wednesday that the news the bill had been defeated was “not a surprise.”
His remark echoes those made by Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who represents the Charlottesville area in the General Assembly’s upper chamber and authored the bill.
After introducing the proposed legislation, Deeds told The Daily Progress it would likely face strong opposition in the GOP-led House.
“I don’t want to fool anybody into thinking it’s going to be easy, because it’s not,” Deeds said.
Deeds did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Progress on Wednesday.
Deeds had said he wrote the bill that specifically targets Charlottesville and Albemarle County at the request of the city and county school divisions.
Both city and county schools are roughly the same age, about 60 to 70 years old. Officials in both said that means their school divisions need capital funding to update and expand schools as student populations grow and their needs change.
In the city, Cheuk said the school division’s proposed improvement projects are not “the fanciest, shiniest thing you ever imagined.”
She said the higher sales tax could have benefited the Buford Middle School reconfiguration project, which would move sixth-grade facilities at Walker Upper Elementary School to Buford and convert Walker into a preschool. The first phase of that project is expected to cost $75 million, according to data from the city.
In the county, a prioritized capital funding request lists two new elementary schools at the top of its list: a $50.6 million school in the northern part of the county and a $44.1 million one to the south. Also on the county’s wish list is land for a third elementary school, which it estimates will cost $7.5 million to purchase.
Giaramita said county schools hadn’t been counting on the money for its capital budget, but the school division’s capital needs are high.
“Well over 90% of our students attend schools that are overcrowded,” Giaramita said. “It does have an impact on learning when you don’t have adequate facilities.”
Albemarle County residents previously showed overwhelming support for raising taxes in support of school-funding projects. A 2016 bond referendum passed with 73.52% of the vote, allowing the county to issue $35 million in general bond obligations to fund school improvement projects. At the time, the Board of Supervisors projected a 1.3-cent increase to the real estate tax rate.
“It’s a very democratic idea,” Giaramita said. “Taxpayers in Albemarle County have already signaled they’re willing to go for a tax increase for capital construction.”
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