FRONT ROYAL – After hearing from 41 speakers during a public hearing that was attended by 200-plus citizens, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a 6-cent real estate tax at around 11:30 p.m.
This comes after an April 9 budget public hearing in which 50 speakers spoke and over 200 citizens listened.
The majority of citizens on Tuesday spoke in favor of the tax increase to fund teacher salaries while others pleaded for no hike.
John Marlow, former mayor and county supervisor, noted that the board is in a “dilemma” as there are two groups of citizens with opposite requests. While there are logical arguments on both sides, he encouraged the board to look to the future and realize that education is the most important item that will shape the community.
Without education, he said there is no economic development, adding that Warren County cannot serve as the training ground for teachers who move on to other localities.
Kim Okland asked the supervisors if they are “courageous enough to fund our future.” She said it is “ironic” that the hearing took place so close to Easter and compared the supervisors to Pontius Pilate, who adjudicated Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. She asked whether the supervisors would crucify the school system or take a stand.
Teacher Zach Logan said his decision to stay in the county was made with the heart, not the wallet. He said children should have teachers with the wisdom and “practical know-how” that comes with experience. He added that the issue at hand is about more than taxes but “a vision for the type of community that we want to have.”
Danelle Sperling, Leslie Fox Keyser Elementary School’s principal, said the supervisors have been warned about the downside of not properly paying teachers and “there’s no going back later on saying you didn’t know.”
Sperling said she hates seeing teachers leave for neighboring counties and while young teachers are amazing — “I wouldn’t trade a single one” — data shows students perform better under teachers with 10-plus years of experience. She said teachers deserve fair and competitive raises and a reason to stay in the county.
Mack Hobgood said that while the schools have great buildings with “wonderful bells and whistles,” teachers make the biggest difference. He asked the supervisors to take the “long view” and approve the budget because the investment will be returned “tenfold.”
Fred Andreae said: “Excellent schools are good for the whole community” and help attract businesses, which in turn reduces the pressure to raise taxes.
Dennis Willingham said teachers deserve raises but administrators’ and Superintendent Greg Drescher’s salaries should be “more in line with reality” because “it’s a proven fact that they can’t handle their responsibilities.”
“How deep do you think our pockets are?” he asked.
Willingham noted that last year Supervisor Tony Carter forewarned the difficulties of this budget, but the board did not solve the issues.
“How much do you think we are able to handle...I’ve had to work for everything I got and you’re taking it away from me,” he said.
Paul Gabbert said the supervisors view citizens as “peons” and tax them to death. He added that all extraneous budgetary items should be eliminated and that his wife, a retired CFO, “laughed at this budget.”
Michele Kushner said teacher salaries are important but the supervisors should find that money outside of taxes and not treat citizens like a bottomless piggy bank.
Dennis David said five tax increases in a row are enough and the supervisors should “give us a break and vote this one down.”
David Silek said citizens elected the supervisors to lead and they “need to do it.”
He said when so many teachers leave schools, there is not just one issue, and management is the problem. He referred to Drescher — who formerly served as the Front Royal-Warren County Economic Development’s chairman while also superintendent — as the “highest paid CEO in the county” who had time to mismanage both the EDA and the schools.
“Until you challenge that you are going to continue to have the exact same poor results,” he said.
Silek added that the Department of Social Services has probably the highest turnover rate of any regional department, which is the county’s biggest problem.
Bob Cullers, chairman of the Department of Social Services Advisory Board, said he was present on behalf of the 20 percent of the population who use social services. He noted that teachers are not the only workers leaving Warren County, as social workers also flee at alarming rates.
Connor Wright told the supervisors that they have a low priority for public safety and that the county always approves a small portion of Fire and Rescue’s budget request.
Meanwhile, he said firefighters morph an already dangerous job into a game of Russian roulette as they use low-quality protective equipment, out-of-date-respiratory equipment and fire engines that could be held together by Band-Aids.
Despite saying that she cannot stand politics, Melanie Salins announced intentions of running against Supervisors Chairman Dan Murray in the November election for his North River seat.
“I also welcome that if there is anyone else out there better qualified than I am who wants that seat, please let me know, but Mr. Murray you cannot be allowed to run unopposed,” she said.
She noted that of the 164 out of 437 teachers who will get raises, those with under 10 years of experience are not included. She also noted that before adding in teacher raises, the county already had a deficit.
Salins added that the supervisors need to “scrap the budget and start from zero next year” and that adding “more onto the same budget every year is not working.”