by Madison White Franks
LANCASTER—A proposal to hold a public referendum on the construction of new schools in Lancaster County was shot down at the board of supervisors meeting last Thursday.
District 1 supervisor Jack Larson called on the board to pursue a public referendum because of citizens’ concerns he has heard about the county’s ability to fund the project. His motion also called for an end to related proceedings immediately.
“The public needs to be behind this,” he said.
The motion failed, 3-2. District 4 supervisor Bill Lee joined Larson, voting aye. District 2 supervisor Ernest Palin, District 3 supervisor Jason Bellows and District 5 supervisor Robert Westbrook voted nay.
“I know we have people that strongly support what has been put forth up to date, but 16 to 17 months ago, there was a proposal put forth to do two new schools and renovate the middle school…it made a lot of claims for benefits and a lot of claims about costs,” Larson said.
“The costs were understated and the benefits were overstated,” he added.
Larson also noted concern about the plans changing from building two new schools and renovating the middle school to building two new schools in phases to replace all the schools eventually. There also was concern that the public may believe the board has reached a consensus to go ahead with the project.
“I know for a fact that while I hear a lot of my constituents who support the new schools….they feel very strongly about moving forward with this. I also know there is a majority of my constituents who are very concerned about this…I believe if we keep going the way we are going, it is going to result in some very bad things,” he said.
There was a process that was followed, said Westbrook.
“The school board for three-and-a-half years had public meetings and at those meetings we talked about the status and condition of every school. We heard what was possible,” he said.
“In the building of one school, there are still some other questions about that plan that need to be answered such as what we do with the old facilities,” said Bellows. “It would seem to me that we are not going to reach efficiencies necessary. We cannot in phase 1 or whatever we do, at least close two of our facilities…if we only build one school on the new lot, we will still be running three schools.”
The only savings we could see would be the power and whatever maintenance costs at the primary school, said Bellows.
The supervisors, county and school officials are due to meet with Davenport & Company representatives regarding school finances at 7 p.m. Thursday, July 12, at the county administration building, 8311 Mary Ball Road, Lancaster.
Only two citizens spoke during a hearing on the tax levy ordinance for calendar year 2018.
Gary Silverman of Morattico discussed options for the county if the board were to increase real estate taxes 10 cents.
“I wish you had increased the tax rate,” said Charlie Costello of Merry Point.
The tax levy ordinance passed 4-1. Westbrook voted against the motion because it did not reflect an increase to help fund new schools.
The tax rates remain unchanged. The rates are $0.59 per $100 of assessed value for real estate, $2.04 per $100 of assessed value for general personal property and motor vehicle, $1.52 per $100 of assessed value for machinery and tools, and $1 per 100 of assessed value discounted by 50% for merchant’s capital.
County treasurer Bonnie Dickson requested that the board seek a revenue anticipation note in the amount of $3,200,000. The purpose of the note is to have enough funds for county expenditures until tax revenue is received in December, said Dickson. The loan is expected to begin in August and the county would pay it back in December.
The board approved seeking the note, 5-0.
Larson asked assistant county administrator Don Gill to find out from the Virginia Department of Transportation about the mowing schedule within the county.
“The grass is getting pretty high, and it’s high enough that some of the smaller deer can hide in it standing up,” he said.
Westbrook also suggested that a letter be written stating concerns regarding the intersection of James B. Jones Memorial Highway and Main Street in Kilmarnock.
At the April board meeting, Westbrook addressed concerns about trucks running onto the curb at the corner next to Walgreens and asked VDOT residency administrator Steve McKeever what could be done to fix it.
The county would have to complete an application for a Smart Scale project for the possibility of funding, said McKeever. He estimated the cost would be around $335,000.
Assistant county administrator Don Gill said he did submit an application per McKeever’s suggestion.
Bellows questioned why Walgreens wouldn’t have a legal case with VDOT for not designing the curb properly.
“I think it’s a bit ridiculous to design a bypass road for trucks that trucks can’t use,” said county attorney Jim Cromwell.
Gill suggested the board authorize him to also write a letter to the Commonwealth’s Transportation Board to express their displeasure about the intersection.
“VDOT approved the Walgreens construction plan so VDOT should fix it…they were the approval authority all the way around,” said Larson.
Gill said signs indicating there is a $500 fine for littering have been installed on the three ‘Welcome to Lancaster’ signs.
Lee moved to accept the retirement of county building official Steve Daum effective September 1. The board authorized the county administrator to advertise for a replacement. The motion passed 5-0.
Supervisors began the meeting at 5:30 p.m. with a closed session for personnel and legal matters regarding the office of county administrator. No action was taken.