The Halifax County Board of Supervisors is on record supporting the passage of a 1% sales tax referendum to fund capital improvements to county schools, but that didn’t stop supporters of the measure, including four high school students, from pleading their case to supervisors at Monday’s meeting.
A number of governing bodies and agencies have passed resolutions in support of using sales tax revenue for school capital construction and improvement, expressing support for the levy of a general retail sales tax to be voted on in a ballot referendum in the Nov. 5 election.
To address school construction needs, community leaders have advocated for access to a 1% increase in the state sales tax in order to generate significant revenue of approximately $100 million over the next 30 years to fund construction or renovation of county schools, so real estate taxes may remain low.
Halifax County High School students Brandon Davis, Nicholas Harris, Lydia Wenzel and Morgan Epperson were among several speakers supporting passage of the referendum.
Davis, a member of the varsity football team, told supervisors the design of the existing school, including the lack of windows and lack of security cameras, has the school “asking for trouble.” He also wants upgraded athletic facilities.
“Our future athletes deserve better,” said Davis.
Harris told supervisors the high school represented a “prison type of environment,” noting odors and musty smells in the lobby and stairwells.
He added both the STEM Center and middle school have better facilities than the high school.
“We need a clean, safe, handicapped accessible high school,” said Harris.
Wenzel noted the high school, with its small windows, looks like a prison, with unpleasant odors, malfunctioning bathrooms and worn out carpet.
Epperson said the high school doesn’t provide a positive learning environment, saying her allergies are triggered by the school building.
“It’s one of the biggest schools in our district but one of the worst,” said Epperson. “We’re young adults, not prisoners.”
Dr. Betty Adams, executive director of the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, Robert Bates of the Halifax County Industrial Development Authority and David Fraser also spoke in favor of the 1% sales tax levy.
The community is unable to attract professionals like physicians and nurses due to the condition of the high school, and families are pulling their children out of the school system and enrolling them elsewhere, Adams told supervisors.
“The eyes of the commonwealth are on us,” said Adams, explaining the city of Danville is “waiting to see what happens here with the sales tax referendum.”
Bates, the father of a teenage son, wants to ensure future students “get a fair shake.
“The future starts here, and don’t do what’s popular. You’re charged to do what’s right,” he told supervisors.
Fraser said maintenance is a key issue, telling supervisors building a new school would do no good, if money is not earmarked for maintenance.
A 32-year military veteran, Fraser has served overseas but has not seen a school in such disrepair, even in foreign lands.
Future budgets need a line item for maintenance, Fraser said.
Barbara Coleman Brown, president of the Halifax County Branch of the NAACP, asked supervisors to make sure all segments of the community benefit from current ongoing construction projects.
She urged the board to insist primary contractors selected for publicly-funded projects follow state and federal guidelines in offering opportunities for minorities and women.
Two other county citizens offered comments on Monday including Thomas Majors, who asked the board to look into the reason why an 18-year-old student with good grades can’t get a job at Dollar General.
Another county resident, Randy Bailey, said he had asked many times for tires disposed on property he intends to purchase near 2153 Mason Chapel Road be removed without success.
Dennis Witt, ED-4 supervisors and board chairman, told Bailey the board would follow up on the issue.