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Citizens support the schools, but not a tax hike

Colonial Beach Town Council may have a hard time deciphering the majority opinion on which taxes to raise after last week’s public hearing on the matter.

The council had previously promised to fund the school system the full amount it requested. Now, they are scrambling to find a way to fulfill that promise.


At the onset of the council vote, three members (Linda Brubaker, Wanda Goforth and Jim Chiarello) vowed not to vote in favor of a tax increase. The other four (Mayor Mike Ham, Vice Mayor Tommy Edwards, and Councilmen Gary Seeber and Tim Curtin) were also reluctant to vote for any tax increase. They did, however, commit to voting in favor if no other way was found to make good on the council’s promise.

In order to fully fund the school, the town has advertised the following tax increases: real estate taxes from .58 to .63 per $100 of assessed value, lodging tax from four percent to five percent, meals tax from four percent to five percent, and cigarette tax from $0.25 to $0.30 per pack.

Ham informed the council that not all of these tax increases would be needed, and they will hold a final vote on the increases on Thursday, June 27. Ham also explained that the council had to advertise the worst-case scenario, saying, “We can go down from advertised amounts but can’t go up.” Ham also stated that both town staff and the council have gone over the budget with a fine-toothed comb.

It was hard to determine just how many citizens were for or against tax hikes. Most citizens were in support of the school system, but stated they were unable to bear the burden of higher taxes. They continued to appeal to the council to find another way to fully fund the school system.

The following is a representation of the variety of comments made by the citizens. For exact comments, visit the town’s website to view a video of the meeting at www.colonialbeachva.net/colonial-beach-live.

Resident and Real Estate Agent Bob Swink said that the easy street is to raise taxes. “We are losing a lot of real good, established people that have lived here for a long time, and we need to think about why we are losing these people,” he said. Swink also says that Colonial Beach already has roughly 110 homes on the market for under $200,000 each. He believes that the majority of income in this town is gained by real estate taxes on second homes. Swink reminded the council that many members promised not to raise taxes. He said that people are living with a 20% decrease in income. “Those people won’t be able to buy second homes and surely won’t be able to pay the taxes on them if it is raised,” Swink continued. He ended by saying, “Fix the problem, but don’t raise our taxes.”

 

Sherry Hutchins suggested a school impact fee that would enforce renters to pay taxes to fund the school system. “I really don’t want my taxes to go up,” Hutchins said. She went on to say that she loves this town but threatened to leave town, stating “If you keep taxing me to death.”

Jay Jarvis was in favor of real a estate tax hike, but feels that taxes on tourists will only hurt the town’s economy. He stated, “I support the school system totally, and I do believe we need an increase in funding to the school system. If that means an increase in property tax, I support that.” Jarvis continued by saying that he believes the teachers and hard-working town employees deserve a raise in pay. He also commented that the town has flat-funded the school system for five years, and that it shows in maintenance. Likewise, Jarvis feels that the town has been forced to make cuts, resulting in the town being flat-funded, as well.

Rita Boston said that she represented her community and the citizens who are on a fixed-income. “We do not support an increase on real estate tax,” Boston announced.

Carl Thor said, “We understand that your dilemma is a horrible one. I think fair-minded people realize they have to pay for what they get.

On the other side, we have a very big responsibility for the growth of our future to stay competitive with other towns our size in this area.”

Thor said that he is skeptical about the need for the tax increase, and after some checking with other small towns, he feels that we are paying higher taxes than comparable localities that receive the same level of service.

Former Vice Mayor, Burkett Lyburn, is in full support of the school system. “If you take the school system out of the town, then you’re not going to have anything. If you take the kids out of the town, you become a dead town!” Despite his support of the school system, Lyburn discussed the ramifications of raising real estate taxes. He said, “Speaking for residents on Jackson St. and the surrounding area, they cannot afford a tax increase. Don’t tax people OUT of the town. We want to bring people INTO the town. There has got to be a way not to raise taxes.” Lyburn suggested breaking it down into portions. Instead of granting the school all the money promised up front, split payments into quarterly, or a few months at a time. He feels that will give the council time to find alternative ways to raise the money needed for the school system without raising taxes.

Steve Cirbee said that the whole issue comes back to how you generate taxes, and knowing where our revenue comes from. He believes the town is a bedroom community and warns that business is building up along Rt. 301, and will continue. He also believes the town has little potential for business growth, and it should continue to rely on residential tax base as its main revenue source. Cirbee said that he is in favor of his real estate tax increasing, because the value of his property goes up, but not in favor of a tax increase on real estate that is not gaining in value.

Robert Payne said, “There can be no doubt that our future depends on our children.” But then he said that we have steadily increased spending on the school system for the last 50 years, and he feels that the children are not well-educated. “One would think that today’s high school students would be much better educated than we were. This is not the case,” he said. Payne cited examples such as young sales clerks not being able to make change without a computer, students not knowing what led to the Revolutionary War, or who do not know the Father of Our Country. Payne said that spending money does not seem to improve education, and feels that real estate rates should not be raised at this time.

Vicki Roberson, Vice Chairman School Board Member, supported the school system and gave some educated facts concerning the schools’ budget and performance rating. Roberson said, “First of all, the schools’ federal funding has been cut $900,000.” Roberson reminded the citizens of school board cuts. She then announced that out of 132 school systems in the state of Virginia, Colonial Beach Schools are one of only 34 school systems that are fully-accredited in the state. Roberson turned her attention to Payne’s comments saying, “Out of my four children who went to school here, one has a better paying job in Charles County than I have ever made. Child number-two is taking the long-term plan out of VCU with a master’s degree and should graduate next year. Child number-three graduated with a degree in communications, and is now working at the Library of Congress, as well as working on her master’s out of Maryland,  and child number-four is a senior at JMU.”

Roberson explained that the rising cost of education is phenomenal. With the Standards of Learning governed by the state for over 18 years, kids in Virginia are required to know more than other students in other states. “If a child does not know the Father of Our Country, they have not passed the Third-Grade SOL; Revolutionary War is learned in fifth grade,” she added. Roberson said she is not going to give up this on this town or the school system, and offered her assistance in any way she can.

Tara Moy graduated from Colonial Beach in 1989. After that, she moved to Stafford. “I chose to return to Colonial Beach seven years ago because I wanted my children to be raised in this school system,” Moy said proudly. She went on to say, “Whether they are in a mod pod or an old building, if they go to the County, they don’t have room for us, so they are going to put up mod pods,” then asked, “What difference does it make if we pay for a mod pod here or in the county?”

Council will meet at 4:30 p.m. at the Town Center for a work session on Thursday, June 27, and will vote on the tax increases at a special meeting later that evening at 7 p.m.

Linda Farneth

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