Eighteen of the 21 people who spoke at the Montgomery County public hearing said that they were in favor of the 1.5-cent real estate tax increase that the board of supervisors proposed last month.
The tax increase is proposed for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1 and a public hearing is required before the supervisors can vote on the matter. Real estate taxes account for 37 percent of the county’s budget, with each cent generating about $775,000 in revenue.
The penny and a half increase is proposed to go toward fully funding the school system’s requested $2.3 million budget increase and for providing fulltime resource officers at eight of the 11 elementary schools in the county. The other three elementary schools already have resource officers.
The latter was requested by Sheriff Hank Partin in an effort to help make students safer amidst growing concerns about gun violence in the US.
The vote to advertise the increase was narrowly passed in a 4-3 vote. Those that voted “yes” said they wanted to give the public a chance to express its opinion.
Most of the people who spoke in favor of the tax increase were school employees, reiterating the point that the county’s teachers are underpaid and that student safety should be of the utmost importance to the supervisors.
William Metzler, a first-year teacher and former Montgomery County student, said that he is a product of the school system and wouldn’t be where he is today without it.
“If your argument is that we suffer from poverty in this county, then we should be looking at investing in things that can disrupt poverty, and [investing in] education is one of the most important things we can do,” he said.”
He also expressed his inability to live off of his teacher’s salary alone.
“I am rather embarrassed when people ask me what I do on the weekends. I work a second job,” he said. “To afford a simple townhome and make student loan payments. That should be an embarrassment to anybody who makes policy in this county.”
Margery Mullins, a third grade teacher at Gilbert Linkous in Blacksburg, echoed many other speakers’ points about the importance of school safety. She believes that the county is either all in or it’s not.
“You can’t say school safety is important, ‘but,’” she said. “There can’t be a ‘but.’”
Funding the eight officers would cost approximately $600,000 the first year and decrease by $70,000 by the third year, which Partin has specifically asked come out of the sheriff’s office’s budget and not the school system’s.
Almost $2 million of the school system’s $2.3 million requested increase is for teacher raises. With that increase, each teach is expected to get an approximately 1.5 percent raise.
The teacher pay scale is based on years of experience. School officials have said that over half of all county teachers are behind on the scale.
The county also has a lower starting salary for teachers than any surrounding school district besides Giles.
Two of the three people that spoke against a tax increase were senior citizens concerned that the increased cost of Medicare had taken a sizeable chunk of their social security cost of living increase, and a tax increase would put a strain on many citizens who depend on social security as their main source of income.
The proposed tax rate of 90.5 cents puts the county’s proposed budget at $190.4 million, with $109 million of that going to the schools.
The current tax rate is $0.89 cents per $100 of assessed value, or $890 per $100,000.
The tax rate was raised two cents in 2013 with that additional funding going solely towards future capital projects for the school system.
The school board sent a letter to the board of supervisors this week after Chairman Chris Tuck talked with Superintendent Mark Miear about a variety of funding possibilities, including taking money from the school’s budget and putting it towards resource officers for county elementary schools only.
Tuck said that he doesn’t have the power to make a motion as chair and has not asked any other board members to make a similar motion.
However, the school board’s concerns were strong enough that it drafted an official letter at its meeting Tuesday reaffirming that it wants SROs, but not if it means taking money from what the school board believes to be a modest request in additional funding.
“We understand and appreciate recent discussions surrounding additional School Resource Officers at elementary schools within the county.
“We fully support this request, provided that additional funding is available outside of the additional school funding proposed by Mr. Meadows. We are opposed to any attempts to take present or future monies from the MCPS budget to pay for those requests,” a portion of the letter read.
The board of supervisors will discuss the budget again at Monday’s meeting. The board will approve a tax rate and adopt a final budget Monday, April 16.