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The Franklin News-Post
P. O. Box 250
310 Main Street, SW
Rocky Mount, Virginia 24151
Fax: 540-483-8013

Most speakers support tax hike
More than 50 residents voiced their opinions at public hearing

Friday, April 19, 2013

By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer

More than 50 residents voiced their opinions about the proposed Franklin County budget for 2013-14 during a public hearing Tuesday night, with most supporting a 2-cent real estate tax hike.

The tax hike was the main topic of discussion after county Administrator Rick Huff reviewed the proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

"There is no right or wrong here," Huff said. "Everybody has their own opinions."

Those opinions came from a variety of residents at the hearing, which saw both public meeting rooms packed at The Franklin Center.

The total proposed budget is $125.2 million, with about $80.1 million earmarked for county schools. That figure for schools includes more than $1.2 million that would be raised with a 2-cent increase in the real estate tax, bringing it from the current 54 cents on each $100 of assessed value to 56 cents.

For a homeowner whose house has been assessed at $150,000, that would mean an extra $35 a year on the tax bill.

School officials have said the extra $ 1.2 million is crucial to save positions and retain the current level of services and programs offered to students.

A pay raise for school employees is included in the proposed budget, even without the proposed tax rate increase.

That's because the county had already agreed to give the school system just over $1 million as its share of an expected $2 million increase in revenue next year. With that money, and over $400,000 from the state specifically given for pay raises, each school employee would receive at least 2.5 percent pay hike next year, the first raise in five years.

Some speakers said they either are or have been associated with the school system, but they made it clear the money is needed.

Ann Cook of Rocky Mount, a retired teacher, said she is on a fixed income but "we definitely support the tax increase."

Responsibilities of the school system have changed over the years, she said, and include dealing with a lot more students from broken homes, those who have nutritional needs and others who are raised by grandparents.

"They (the schools) educate the whole child, not a piece of the child," she said.

That, along with keeping up with technology, makes education far more expensive, she added.

Tom Scott of Moneta, a Smith Mountain Lake marina owner, agreed.

"This is not a game," he said. "This is our tax dollars and they will not be wasted (on schools)."

Scott said education is a "good investment," important to the county's economic stability and future development.

"We should all ante up," he said. "It (having good schools) is a win-win situation."

Tom Joyce of Hardy said he supports the tax increase because without it, the schools will be facing "major program cuts."

Schools are already operating at a "bare minimum," he said, and this is a "stabilization budget."

Bill Mitchell of Sontag said he does not support the increase, and that teachers are already paid well.

Mitchell criticized the school board for a "strategy of negative press" related to the budget, and they should take a more positive approach.

"The weight of taxes falls on those least able to shoulder the burden," he said.

But several teachers, including Shannon Brooks of Union Hall, said it was not about her, that it is a community issue.

"I'm here because I care about what happens to my children, your children, our children," she said.

Teacher Steve Angle of Rocky Mount said being at the public hearing was "much more than just being self-serving."

"Aren't we all Franklin County?" he asked. "We want our county to grow and encourage economic development."

Having good schools is part of that, he said, and it's "a simple choice" for people.

"Education is a priority or it's not," he said. "Don't look at the 2 cents as a tax, look at it as an investment."

Daryl Reynolds, who lives in the Boone District, said an investment is something he should have a choice in, and a tax is not a choice -- he must pay it.

"I'm not anti-education," he said. "But I oppose it (tax hike). We are taxed enough already. We are taxed too much."

But Bud Corey, a retiree from Hardy, said other places he has lived have far higher taxes, with much of it going to schools to support good systems.

Corey said he grew up during the Great Depression and still received a good public education although his family was very poor and did not contribute much in taxes.

"Somebody paid for it," he said, adding that many people also helped pay for his children's education.

"It's our turn to pay here," he said.

Several parents spoke about impending cuts to programs if the tax hike fails, and they detailed how those programs had helped their children.

Amanda Scott of Boones Mill said her son needed help through the student intervention program and has now made great progress.

That program could be cut without the extra money.

"Children will suffer," she said, "because these cuts could directly affect a struggling student."

Scott said the proposed tax hike only amounts to "one or two dinners out a year" for most people.

The relatively low cost of the tax hike was also a theme used by John Hollandsworth of Snow Creek.

"I am retired and on a fixed income and no longer have children in school, but me and my family overwhelmingly support this (tax hike)," he said. "It's only about 8 cents a day (with a house assessed at almost $150,000) to address the needs of more than 7,000 children."

Hollandsworth said those who oppose the tax hike should be addressing their concerns to state legislators who keep passing unfunded mandates and cutting back on support for schools.

"Call (Del. Charles) Poindexter and (State Sen. Bill) Stanley," he said. "That's where the anger should be directed."

C.E. Townsend of Penhook said the tax raise may not be a lot, but many things are getting more expensive and "those increases add up every day."

People on fixed incomes are being hurt, he said, because "everything is going up a little bit at a time."

"The school board should not budget depending on continuous tax increases," he said.

Sherrie Mitchell of Snow Creek also opposed the tax hike, saying payroll taxes, insurance, food, electricity rates and gas have all gone up. This makes it difficult for property owners who are trying to preserve farmland and keep it in the family, she said.

"Schools must operate on what they have been allotted," she added.

Jerry Thomas of Union Hall said he supports the school system, but opposes any real estate tax increase.

The school budget "refuses to face economic reality," he said, and paints a "picture of dire consequences."

"I have listened to a chorus of 'the sky is falling' ... and we still have a great school system," he said. "It's not the amount, but it's how it is spent. Any additional tax increase would be unreasonable. It all adds up. It all hurts."

Dr. Sam Campbell, a retired educator who now directs Helping Hands, said it is not a scenario where the quality of the school system comes "crashing down" all at once.

"It's a step by step decline," he said. "Don't let this system erode. We are at the tipping point (of that decline)."

Campbell said this is a community issue because schools are for the "common good."

"Schools are for everybody," he said. "We all benefit from a good education (provided for everyone)."

Jason Cooper of Boones Mill said he is usually not in favor of tax increases, "but in this case, this is something we need to do."

Cooper said employees have continued to "do more with less," and need a "boost of confidence."

"You have to face the consequences of what you decide," he told the board, adding that the support for schools should be across the community.

Richard Ellis of the Blackwater District, pointed out that on the county's website, low tax rates are advertised as well as one of the best school systems in the state.

But "cheap taxes" can't always mean great schools, he said. "We can't have our cake and eat it, too."

Bill Jacobsen, CEO of Carilion Franklin Memorial Hospital, said having a good school system helps him as an administrator, a member of the community and as a father whose daughter recently graduated from Franklin County High School.

"Most managers (at the hospital) were educated in Franklin County schools," he said. "I have never worked with a greater group of people. I encourage all of you to support the 2-cent tax increase."

Several school bus drivers spoke in support of the tax hike.

Brad Hodges of the Blue Ridge District drives a bus and has two children in county schools.

"If something is worth something, you've got to invest in it," he said.

George Hutcherson of Rocky Mount said he supports the tax increase and "the school system should be applauded for money management."

"It (the requested funding) ought to be an automatic approval," he said.

Leanne Worley, a longtime teacher in the county, told the board, "We have a crisis of community," and she was tired of hearing school employees being criticized over pay raises.

"We are all hard-working servants of the community. I serve it with all my heart," she said. "And I do it because I care."

Worley said schools help build the community and the economy, and the dialogue (related to asking for more funding) is "not good for Franklin County."

"Your job is to help us get back together," she told the board. "Let's figure out a way not to put ourselves in this spot any more."

LaVerne Tiggle of Rocky Mount, a retired educator, said she is a taxpayer and she supports the tax raise.

"We need these services that may be cut," she said. "I have seen the consequences (of not having them)."

"It is painful to have to beg for what we need for the school system," she said.

School Superintendent Dr. Mark Church thanked the supervisors for giving everyone a chance to speak at the public hearing.

"I cannot be prouder of the community," he said. "This is how it works."

Supervisors made no comments at the public hearing. They have scheduled a meeting for Tuesday, April 23 at 6 p.m. in their meeting room at the government center to discuss adoption of the budget and whether to keep the proposed tax increase or lower it.

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