By Callie Hietala
Members of the Henry County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion to allocate 100 percent of revenues from a recent 1 percent sales tax increase to future construction, renovations, and improvements of school facilities.
Vice Chairman Joe Bryant, of the Collinsville District, made the motion that was seconded by Ryan Zehr, of the Ridgeway District.
Bryant’s motion also included replacing $2.6 million in the budget previously appropriated for school debt with money from the general fund reserve funds.
The action came after the Henry County School Board sent a letter to the supervisors requesting the return of $2.6 million in proceeds from a 1 percent sales tax increase that was earmarked to help fund school construction and improvement projects.
Though the section of the Code of Virginia allowing for the tax increase specified that “revenues from this tax shall be used solely for capital projects for new construction or major renovation of schools,” the county opted to allocate some of the proceeds to pay down debt from previous school construction and improvement projects.
In December, then-Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion stating that the revenues from the additional tax should be used to fund capital projects for new construction or major renovation of schools and not for debt mitigation.
At the time, the attorney general’s website noted that the opinions issued by that office “are not legally binding” but “are frequently relied on by courts and members of the General Assembly, in addition to the officials to whom they are addressed.”
“That money belongs to us,” said school board member Ben Gravely when the school board voted to send the letter. “That money is owed. They should give us our money.”
“I think that today says we want to work with our school board on situations” and maintain a positive and collaborative relationship, said supervisor chairman Jim Adams, of the Blackberry District, after the vote.
“I think it was handled very well,” said school board chairman Thomas Auker. “I think both sides understood the importance of these funds for the schools. Especially when it comes to improving the school buildings and so forth, we need that money in order to be able to do that. I commend the Board of Supervisors for unanimously approving it.”
Vice chairman Teddy Martin said he was “glad the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to return the 1 percent sales tax to the school board for new construction and renovations in accordance with the Attorney General’s opinion, the law, and the will of the voters in the referendum. As I was inspired to run for the school board by the need for capital improvements and as President of the VSBA (Virginia School Board Association), this has been a very important matter to me, our board, and school boards and officials across the Commonwealth. I look forward to working collaboratively with our local appropriating body in the future to make our community the best place to live, work, and raise a family.”
“I think they did the right thing,” said school board member Francis Zehr, of the Ridgeway District, who initially made the motion to send the letter to the supervisors.
Since the proposal constitutes a change of more than one percent of the current budget, the supervisors set a public hearing for April 26 at 6 p.m. to receive public input on the adjustment.
In other matters, the board:
*Unanimously approved a proclamation celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Martinsville Speedway and unveiled a new, temporary logo incorporating the anniversary which will be used in marketing efforts for Henry County and the Martinsville Speedway.
*Unanimously approved an additional appropriation of $300,000 received from the Virginia Department of Health’s Virginia School Screening Testing for Assurance (ViSSTA) program. The funds will be used for expenses related to testing and communication regarding COVID-19.
*Presented a proclamation to the Blue Ridge Regional Library Board of Visitors recognizing April 3-9, 2022, as National Library Week.
*Unanimously approved an appropriation of $1,036,250 from the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program for site work on lot #2 at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. The funds will be used to clear timber from the site and prepare grading design plans.
*Unanimously approved an appropriation of $357,741 from the Virginia Tobacco Commission for site work at the Commonwealth Crossing Business Centre. The funds will be used for grading and development of lot #5.
*Unanimously approved an appropriation of $414,993 from the contingency and carryover funds to replace the roof on the Henry County Recreation Center and awarded a contract of $567,000 to JT Morgan Roofing, Inc. The rest of the funds will come from a previous allocation for the same project earlier in the fiscal year.
*Unanimously approved the awarding of a contract to EMS Management and Consultants, Inc. of Winston-Salem, NC for emergency medical services billing.
*Unanimously approved an additional appropriation totaling $414,993 from the contingency and carryover funds and approved awarding the contract of $567,000 to JT Morgan Roofing, Inc. of Roanoke, VA, for the replacement of the roof.
*Held a public hearing and unanimously approved changes to the magisterial districts proposed by the Redistricting Committee during the board’s regular Feb. meeting.
*Unanimously approved a rezoning request of approximately 3.4 acres at 902 Eggleston Falls Road in the Ridgeway District from suburban residential to agricultural. The applicant wishes to build additional accessory buildings on the property.
*Held a public hearing and approved a resolution in support of a Community Development Block Grant proposal for the Fieldale Heritage Revitalization Project.
*Approved a proclamation declaring April 3-9, 2022, as National Library Week.
*Approved a proclamation establishing March 2022 as Multiple Sclerosis Education and Awareness Month in Henry County.
*Approved a resolution supporting the addition of Buckingham Terrace to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) secondary road system.
*Recognized the winning teams of Henry County Parks and Recreation’s winter sports.
*Heard from Andrew Barker, a farmer in Axton, who requested the board change its current density policy regarding solar farms to allow for more solar development.
*Heard from Andrew Hines, of the Iriswood District, who expressed his disappointment with the funding of the school division. He said Henry County schools rank next-to-last in terms of funding received by locality.
*Heard from a Vietnam combat veteran who asked the board to pass a resolution to fly the POW/MIA (prisoner of war/missing in action) flag under American flags flying throughout the county.
*Heard from Joyce Staples about diversity in hiring. She said while she was not opposed to Dale Wagoner becoming the next County Administrator upon Tim Hall’s retirement, she wanted to “put a spotlight on an inequitable and unjust” hiring process which has appointed a series of white, male county administrators without opening the job up to a public application process.