Chesterfield to vote on meals tax, funds for schools and radio system
By Blake Belden, Staff Writer
Nov 4, 2013, 12:17
CHESTERFIELD — On Election Day, Chesterfield residents will be faced with the option of supporting more than $350 million in bonds to improve the county’s schools and emergency communications system, and whether or not to implement a meals tax to help pay for these bonds.
There will be three separate referendum votes on the Chesterfield ballot:
1) $304 million in bonds to support school facility improvements
2) $49 million in bonds to provide for the replacement of the county’s emergency communications system
3) Establish a local meals tax of 2 percent.
The first option of the referendum is prioritized to deal with aging infrastructure at 10 dated schools in the county, as well as some remaining overcrowding issues that were not entirely resolved by the 2004 referendum which added an approximate 5,000 seats to the school division, said Tim Bullis, director of community relations for Chesterfield County Public Schools.
Chesterfield County is home to 64 public school buildings, of which 30 buildings are more than 40 years old, and in the last few decades, the county has gotten behind with school maintenance, Bullis said.
“Our school structures are sound. The walls are fine. They’re not in any danger of collapsing or whatnot, but the systems inside of the walls and the systems on top of the walls need to be replaced. They’re aging just as our schools are,” Bullis said at a public forum on Wednesday night.
To correct this, the bond referendum would include funding to replace H-VAC systems, replace roofs, fix plumbing and install more energy efficient lighting.
In addition to the revitalization of seven school facilities: Ettrick Elementary, Providence Middle, Monacan High, Manchester Middle, Harrowgate Elementary, Reams Elementary and Crestwood Elementary, the bond would include funding to completely rebuild three elementary schools: Enon, Matoaca and Buelah.
“Those schools were built in the 1920s and the 1930s. We’ve squeezed just about everything we can get out of those facilities. To put that into perspective, those schools are between 75 and 85 years old. The national average for when most localities tear down buildings and start over, not put a trailer out back, not build an addition, not put a nice new front entrance on, but tear down and start over, is about 42 years old,” Bullis said.
As far as providing relief for some overcrowding issues, (Watkins Elementary is currently at 120 percent capacity), the bond would include $30.6 million to build a brand new elementary school.
Bullis said that the renovations and new constructions would position the schools’ front offices at the front entrance of the building to increase security methods at the schools.
“We want to make sure that we know who’s coming in our school buildings, what they’re doing there and where they’re going inside of our schools. If you walk into Manchester Middle ... you can walk six steps in and you walk smack into a 16-feet-wide cinderblock wall. There’s no windows, there’s no doors. The front office staff is behind that wall with no way of seeing who is coming into the building,” Bullis said.
If all three components of the referendum are voted for, all of the renovations and constructions are expected to be completed by 2022.
The second portion on Tuesday’s ballot concerns spending $49 million in bonds to replace the county’s emergency communications system.
The current system, which acts as the primary communications system for public safety first responders allowing for intercommunication and dispatch services between different personnel during times of emergency, was designed in 1997 and its service life will expire in 2017.
This system is what allows for public safety personnel from surrounding localities to correspond with each other through radio communication and provide help when necessary.
“There’s a lot of instances, almost pretty much on a daily basis where we engage in these mutual aid agreements with our surrounding jurisdictions, and we help each other. Of course, the mission is to give help to the public as quickly as you possibly can. All of that is made possible through this radio system. Without this system, none of that really can take place,” said Lt. Wesley Fertig with the Chesterfield County police.
The third choice on the ballot is the implementation of a two percent county meals tax to help provide additional funding for the bond payments required by the first two referendums on the ballot.
The revenues gained from the meals tax will be solely restricted to paying the bond payments, and are expected to cost the average Chesterfield household $1 per week, or approximately $52 annually, according to Allan Carmody, budget director for Chesterfield county.
On an annual basis, the meals tax is estimated to generate an extra $8 million towards the bond payments, Carmody said.
Without the meals tax, the two bond referendums will become more costly and take much longer to pay off, as well as draw out the completion dates for many of the projects.
“That seven-year window for doing these school projects probably extends out closer to 15 years. Not only does that have a short-term impact on when we can replace Enon Elementary and when we can renovate Harrowgate Elementary, there’s a longer term impact. ... We strategically built a plan to revitalize and renovate and keep up all of our school buildings. There’s 64 facilities, and if we do 10-12 at a time, and we start looking at 15 year increments to do them, it’s going to take us 80 to 90 years to get around to all of our schools,” Bullis said.
Carmody said that the Board of Supervisors discussed the implementation of a sunset provision to the meals tax, which would end the existence of the meals tax when the bonds have been paid off.
Chesterfield cannot impose a meals tax without the vote of the county, nor can it raise the meals tax without another referendum.
For more information regarding the referendum, visit www.yourvoicefirstchoice.com.