‘This will continue to repair that relationship’: Following AG opinion, Gloucester leaders reverse course on sales tax spending

Gloucester

GLOUCESTER, Va. (WAVY) — A political fight between the Gloucester County School Board and Board of Supervisors is coming to an end after supervisors voted to change how they spend new sales tax money.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday night, the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors directed Acting County Administrator Carol Steele to find a way to balance the current county budget while no longer using an additional 1% sales tax to help pay down school construction debt.

The move comes after Attorney General Mark Herring (D-Va.) said in a legal opinion that the extra cent of sales tax is to be used only to fund new construction or major renovations of Gloucester’s public schools, not ones that have already occurred.

The board’s original budget vote angered school board members, education advocates and state lawmakers. The board’s chair now hopes healing can begin.

“Obviously the majority of the board voted back in spring for a budget that we thought was appropriate and with legal council we thought we had done the right thing,” Chairman Bob “JJ” Orth said. “We were all in agreement that those of us who did vote for the budget last year, we still think we’re right.”

Orth said he and fellow supervisors didn’t want to raise additional taxes, when the new sales tax also went into place. However, Orth said after discussing the attorney general’s opinion in a closed session, it was clear the right thing to do was resolve the issue.

“We felt we had to repair the relationship, and think that has happened and this will continue to repair that relationship,” Orth said. “It was the right thing to do.”

Taxes won’t necessarily go up, according to Orth. Rather, Steele and her team will look to use fund balance to adjust the current fiscal year budget, and find creative ways to balance the fiscal year 2023 proposed budget.

“Our economy is thriving, our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in the state … we hope the growing economy will help us develop an appropriate budget that will help minimize the tax increase,” Orth said.

The county forecasted an estimated $5 million in new yearly revenue from the new tax approved by 62% of voters by referendum in 2020. Some of that money will still go toward debt service, Steele said, but starting now, no future funds will.

“The Gloucester County School Board appreciates the decision made by the Board of Supervisors,” Robin Rice, chair of the Gloucester County School Board, said in a statement. “We look forward to the 1% additional sales tax being utilized to address the school construction and major school renovation needs within Gloucester County Public Schools.”

Beth Gibson, a parent of two GPS students who helped lead the “Vote Yes for Gloucester” campaign, said she is glad everyone is moving on.

“Pleasantly surprised, I was really happy and excited a 7-0 vote, they were unanimous in deciding to do the right thing,” Gibson said.

Now, Isle of Wight County is again trying to see if they can have similar luck.

State Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City County), who warned in the past that Gloucester’s actions could have a “chilling” effect on the rest of the state, has already put forward legislation to schedule a referendum vote this November.

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