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Residents can speak at a public hearing Tuesday on a proposed real estate tax increase to help schools.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Prepare for the worst and hope for better.
That was the theme March 27 during a work session of the Franklin County School Board.
For the school division, the worst-case scenario will rear if the county’s board of supervisors votes not to increase the real estate tax rate by 2 cents to provide additional funding for the schools.
Supervisors voted 4-3 on March 26 to at least advertise the possibility of a 2-cent increase as a way to try to gauge public support for the schools.
On Tuesday, supervisors will host a public hearing that will offer residents a forum to oppose or support the increase as discussion focuses on the county’s proposed budget for fiscal 2013-14, currently advertised at about $125.2 million.
Absent the funding generated by the 2-cent tax increase, the school division reports it will face a budget gap of about $1.5 million. That figure does not include about $1.8 million more the division has sought to pay for a variety of initiatives and expenses, including money for planning a new Career and Technical Education Center, new school buses and more.
School Superintendent Mark Church, who grew up in Franklin County, said he believes some residents do not understand that the school division needs more funding from the county this year just to avoid losing ground.
“We’ve cut and cut through all these years,” Church said. “Now, we’re down to the point where we can’t make it work. Everything we are asking for we have to have to meet our current needs.”
Last month, 7,129 students were enrolled in county schools in grades K-12.
The worst-case scenario reviewed by the school board March 27 identified jobs, both inside the classroom and out, and programs that could be cut. Class sizes likely would grow. The board might need to consider enacting pay-to-play fees for athletics and marching band, and cutting a dozen tuition slots for students to attend the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School, according to that scenario.
The division reports that it has experienced in the past four fiscal years a reduction in state funding of about $7.6 million and has relied on cuts in staff and programs, temporary federal stimulus money and federal education jobs funding, increased support from the county and carryover funding to survive.
If supervisors ultimately approve the 2-cent increase, the money raised, about $1.2 million, will be added to about $1.1 million in new revenues already dedicated by supervisors to the schools and bring the total county contribution to the schools to about $32.8 million for fiscal 2013-14.
Other funding scenarios reviewed by school board members March 27 included how the division’s budget would be affected by an increase in the real estate tax rate of 1 cent and an increase of 2 cents. The former would leave an estimated gap of about $846,676 and the latter a gap of about $219,427. All three scenarios would move forward with a one-step pay increase for school employees based on a minimum raise of 2.5 percent.
Church said the state is prepared to contribute about $444,336 to support pay increases, money the division will lose if the raises don’t happen. Although most school employees received a one-time bonus last year, they have not received a pay raise since fiscal year 2008-09, Church said.
He and school board members have emphasized that a pay raise is necessary to avoid losing experienced teachers to higher paying school divisions in the region.
The 2-cent increase would take the county real estate tax from 54 cents per $100 of assessed value to 56 cents per $100 of assessed value. The real estate tax for a house with an assessed value of $100,000 would increase by about $20, from about $540 a year to about $560 a year.
In 2012, supervisors voted to increase the real estate tax from 48 cents per $100 of assessed value to 54 cents per $100 of assessed value. County Administrator Rick Huff has said the increase was approved to “recoup a portion of the revenue lost because of a 15 percent countywide drop in real estate values.”
County staff did not recommend a tax increase this year. The county’s proposed budget includes a 3 percent raise for county employees, both full-time and part-time.
Supervisor Bob Camicia has said that there are county residents who are hurting financially for whom a tax increase would be an additional burden. He has said the school division, like a household, must make spending decisions and set priorities based on what money is available.
Supervisors are scheduled to vote April 23 about adopting the county’s budget and would make a decision then about whether to increase the real estate tax as advertised.
Meanwhile, Church expressed concerns Thursday that the venue supervisors selected for Tuesday’s public hearing, the Franklin Center on Claiborne Avenue in Rocky Mount, offers limited seating and parking.
“We did offer the high school and/or middle school auditoriums for the hearing,” Church said. “I hope that people supporting either side of the issue will not become frustrated with the lack of space and parking. I estimate that we will have many more people who want to participate in the meeting than the building will hold.”
The budget public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Franklin Center, 50 Claiborne Ave., in Rocky Mount.
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