The Virginia Senate has passed a bill that would allow Charlottesville and Albemarle County to raise the area’s sales tax to fund school renovation and construction.
The bill passed on Monday in a 27-10 vote, winning bipartisan support. It will move to the House of Delegates, where a similar bill introduced last year was nixed by Republicans.
If signed into law, the bill would allow the city and the county to bring an up-to-1% sales tax hike to their respective voters, who would then decide whether they’re willing to take on the extra cost at the register. Each locality could decide if they wanted to exclude a certain kind of good from the tax hike, such as groceries, city and county officials said.
A 1% increase would generate 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 Board of Supervisors Chair Donna Price told The Daily Progress on Thursday.
It’s equivalent to about an 8% increase in property taxes, she said, and somewhat more recession-proof than those property taxes.
School buildings in the area and across the commonwealth are in desperate need of investment, according to the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds, who represents the area in the General Assembly’s upper chamber.
“We’ve got a $28 billion problem statewide. We’ve got a huge problem locally,” Deeds told The Daily Progress on Thursday.
Deeds 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, around 60 to 70 years old. Officials said that means both divisions need capital funding to update and expand schools as student populations grow and their needs change.
“There’s no shortage of projects,” county schools spokeswoman Helen Dunn told The Daily Progress on Thursday.
And those projects are not superfluous, according to Charlottesville schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk.
“The community, they’re in favor of our students having modern facilities,” Cheuk told The Daily Progress on Thursday. “They may not want the fanciest, shiniest thing you ever imagined, but they also know that our kids need better and deserve better than what they have now.”
In the city, Cheuk said the higher sales tax could benefit 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 the 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.
City and county officials as well as Deeds himself could not say whether the money raised by the tax hike could be used to buy land. Deeds, however, said it could at least be used to free up other money to do so.
Deeds’ legislation has made it out of the state Senate, but it still needs to make it through the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk before it is law. Last year, similar legislation co-sponsored by Democratic Del. Sally Hudson died in the House before making it out of committee.
Hudson, who represents Charlottesville and sections of Albemarle County as part of the 57th District, is Deeds’ challenger in the Democratic primary for the state Senate’s 11th District seat.
Deeds, who won some Republican votes in the Senate for the latest tax hike, said he is optimistic he can win over at least some of the GOP in the House.
“I don’t want to fool anybody into thinking it’s going to be easy, because it’s not,” Deeds said. “I’m anxious to talk to the House of Delegates.”
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