The Montgomery County Board of Supervisors, in a 4-3 vote, shot down the possibility of a two-cent property tax increase that would have gone towards future capital projects for Christiansburg-strand schools.
The vote at Monday’s meeting was not the final vote on the tax rate or budget for the upcoming fiscal year, but rather a vote on the rate and budget to advertise to the public as required by law.
Supervisor Mary Biggs (D-District F) proposed the property tax increase, which would have generated an additional $1.5 million per year to go towards the new Belview Elementary School, which MCPS officials have said is overcrowded and outdated (built in 1954), and next on the list to be replaced (projected start date of 2022).
Based on 2015 projections, a 450-pupil school would cost between $29-32 million, and a 720-pupil school would cost $38 million, $12 million of which could be raised if Biggs’ plan had been approved.
Superintendent Dr. Mark Miear was in favor of the increase at Monday’s work session as well, and said that not increasing property taxes a little now could lead to a bigger tax hike in the future if the Christiansburg schools’ aging infrastructure was not addressed soon.
Something similar happened most recently in 2011 to help cover the costs of a new Blacksburg High School that was needed after the old one’s gymnasium roof collapsed following a snowstorm in 2010.
Chair Chris Tuck (R-District B) said that he believed there were other options besides raising taxes, and the three other Republicans on the board (Gary Creed, District C; Todd King District D and Darrell Sheppard District E) seemed to agree, as they all voted against the tax increase.
The increase would have added $20 in taxes for every $100,000 of assessed property value, which King said could hurt some county residents who are struggling to get by with the current rate.
Tuck said that according to a 2015 study, the old Christiansburg Middle School building (currently Montgomery Central) could be renovated and turned into a new elementary school that would alleviate Christiansburg’s overcrowding problem for its elementary students for approximately $16 million. He said that doing that would also free up funds to possibly break ground on a new Christiansburg High School sooner than expected.
School officials are currently not interested in going that route, because the plans for that project call for a 900-pupil school (which the school board has said is too big), and it does not address the aging infrastructure at Belview.
Officials also said that the renovation would actually cost between $20.5-22.5 million when factoring in inflation, which they say is almost 70 percent of the cost of building a completely new elementary school.
Tuck said that his plan may not be the solution that everyone wants, but has maintained that he is against raising taxes when other solutions may be available, which he said was the case.
Supervisor April DeMotts (D-District G) said that she didn’t understand why the proposed increase was voted down so early, because advertising the increase would have led to more community input, and once the tax rate is advertised, it can only be decreased from its current rate ($.0.89 per $100 of value).
School Board member Connie Froggatt (District F) expressed her displeasure with the supervisors’ decision.
“The vote obviously went along party lines. I’m extremely disappointed that the four supervisors who have Christiansburg schools in their district put partisan politics ahead of the needs of the children they serve,” she said. “I give Chair Tuck an A for effort in thinking about other ways to address their needs, but I think it should be left up to the School Board to determine how to address their needs. Unfortunately the vote tonight makes that very difficult.”
The next meeting is at 7:15 p.m. March 27 at the Montgomery County Government Center, 755 Roanoke St., Christiansburg.