Officials talk about taking meals tax hike off the table
By Candace Sipos -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After much discussion and some dissenting comments, city council forwarded advertising for the highest real estate tax increase the officials have been considering and talked about taking the proposed meals tax hike off the table completely.
Several councilors voted for advertising for the 9 cent increase but said they wouldn't necessarily vote for that high of an increase down the road. The councilors can lower the rate after advertising but cannot raise the rate higher than what has been advertised.
"Publicly, we're probably going to be beat up as much with 9 cent as with the 5 cent [increase]," Councilman Milt McInturff said. "... Maybe that's what we have to do."
He agreed with Mayor Elizabeth Minor and several others to eliminate discussion on the proposed meals tax, a possible monetary aid to the school system that officials have been investigating for months.
"We need to scrape that off our plate," Minor said but voiced concern about the extent of the real estate tax increase. "It's still hard to swallow."
While council President Jeff Buettner said he also worried about the hike, he said his daughter, who is going through the city's public school system, doesn't bring home a Biology book because there aren't enough to go around.
"If you look at our budget, it's pretty bare bones," he said. "There's not a lot of fluff in there. When kids are asked to share study guides and not write on them... There isn't enough money for books..."
He noted that council planned on taking such an action before, but now the obligation has caught up with officials.
Vice-Chairman John Willingham added that the recent citizen survey completed by hundreds of local residents showed evidence that the quality of the city school system is a top priority for many.
According to a preliminary budget summary for the school system, a 9 percent increase could fund the debt service for a new elementary school, which officials are hoping would cost $20 million. The increase, which would bring in more than $2.4 million, would fund a salary increase for school employees and the hiring of a police officer and two firefighters.
Also, the money would fund information technology strategic plan recommendations and equipment and vehicle replacements in public works, police and parks.
Currently, the city charges 86 cents per $100 of the assessed value for real estate tax.
Council must hold a first reading on the proposed tax increase followed by a public hearing on the matter.
In other news, Jim Deskins, director of economic redevelopment for the city, announced that the city has been awarded a nearly $5 million grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation to extend Battaile Drive over the CSX tracks to Valley Avenue.
The funding, which will come from the Transportation Partnership Opportunity Fund in support of Rubbermaid's plant expansion, will also allow for the widening of Monticello Street, according to city documents.
The city will also receive more than $1.2 million in tax revenue from Rubbermaid because of the expansion, the document states.