By William P. O’Hare —
A few years ago, I wrote a report for the yearly KIDS COUNT on the Eastern Shore Forum in which I compared the well-being of children in Northampton County to the well-being of children in other counties and independent cities in Virginia. The comparison was based on an index including things like the child poverty rate, the infant mortality rate, high school graduation rates, and test scores.
When the index for Northampton County was compared to a similar index for all the other counties in Virginia, Northampton was near the bottom of the ranking. Of the 133 counties and independent cities in Virginia, Northampton County ranked 125.
I raise this study now, because there is an issue on the ballot in November that can help us address this situation.
The item on the ballot would increase county sales tax by 1% for all items except food, medicine, automobiles, and farm equipment. This will generate about $1.4 million dollars a year that would help us pay off the money borrowed to renovate and expand the high school and middle school. The money raised by this tax will be dedicated solely for school construction and renovation in the county. The tax will expire after 20 years. The idea has bipartisan support. State Sen. Lynwood Lewis and state Del. Rob Bloxom both support this effort.
This ballot issue has an important substantive side, but it also has an important symbolic side. From a pragmatic perspective, one of the most important things about this way of paying for the school renovation is that an estimated 45% of the taxes paid will come from people visiting or traveling through Northampton County rather than the taxpayers who live here. The alternative way to pay for the construction is to increase our property taxes by approximately 7.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.
But this ballot is also symbolic. A yes vote indicates support for the children and youth in Northampton County. It says we care about our children and we strive to improve their lives and the trajectory into adulthood. A yes vote indicates we want to make sure children in Northampton County have a chance for a 21st century education. It sounds trite, but children are the future. The future of Northampton County depends a lot on how today’s children turn into good workers, responsible family members, and engaged citizens.
William P. O’Hare, Ph.D., is president of O’Hare Data and Demographic Services LLC and a resident of Cape Charles.