Northampton County Considers One-Cent Sales Tax for Schools

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By Stefanie Jackson – Northampton supervisors are considering raising the local sales tax by one cent, collecting up to $1.4 million a year to repair and rebuild public schools.

“A lot of that sales tax would be paid or generated by people who are moving through here and stop for meals … as opposed to just raising property taxes all the time,” said Chairman Spencer Murray.

“This would be a significant piece of new revenue for the county, even though it would just have to go to the schools.

“We just borrowed $28 million” to fix Northampton High School “and we know that our elementary schools are going to have to have work as well,” he said.

Northampton would be following the lead of Halifax County, a small county in southern Virginia about as populated as Accomack.

Halifax County recently decided to implement an additional 1% sales tax for capital improvements to its public schools after supervisors learned it would cost $88 million to repair Halifax County High School, according to a report on the WSLS 10 website.

A brand-new high school would cost Halifax County $100 million.

Earlier this year, the Virginia General Assembly introduced House Bill 1634 to authorize Halifax County to impose the additional sales tax. It passed in the Senate and the House, and Gov. Ralph Northam approved the bill March 19.

About 71% of Halifax County voters passed a referendum for the 1% sales tax this November.

Supervisor Oliver Bennett asked if the money is guaranteed to local public schools, considering they are not receiving the amount of funding from the Virginia Lottery that was originally intended for them, he said.

County Administrator Charlie Kolakowski assured supervisors that because the money would be generated by local sales taxes, it would go directly to Northampton County, to be used solely for school repair, construction, and related debt.

Del. Rob Bloxom brought the Halifax referendum to the attention of Northampton County administrators and supervisors.

If Northampton decides to follow suit with Halifax County, the effort would follow a similar timeline, with a bill introduced to the General Assembly in 2020 and a referendum presented to Northampton voters next November.

In another matter, Northampton supervisors passed their 2020 legislative agenda, a list of the top 20 items they would like Bloxom and Sen. Lynwood Lewis to prioritize during next year’s General Assembly.

Number one was a request for state legislators to support funding for public roads but to oppose legislation that would give counties the responsibility to construct and maintain existing and new secondary roads.

Northampton supervisors want counties to have equal authority with cities and towns to charge taxes such as cigarette and meals taxes.

They also want state parks and campgrounds to collect transient occupancy taxes like privately owned campgrounds.

Northampton supervisors oppose legislation that would eliminate local business taxes such as the machinery and tools tax.

They support the full restoration of state funding for the Compensation Board and constitutional officers, including the county treasurer, commissioner of revenue, sheriff, clerk of courts, and commonwealth attorney.

Northampton supervisors also support full restoration of funding for the Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of Quality, which mandate the ratios of teachers and administrators to students in public schools.

Other highlights included requests to eliminate unfunded mandates found in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, one of which requires soil and water conservation assessments for farmlands.

The other requires localities to develop notification programs ensuring septic systems are cleaned out every five years, but supervisors believe this responsibility should belong to the Virginia Department of Health.

Northampton supervisors also support the advancement of technology for providing long-distance health education, administration, and healthcare.

At Supervisor Robert Duer’s request, support for second amendment rights was added, and the resolution passed unanimously.