Central Park Financing OK’d Budget Hearing: One Speaker

The Tappahannock Town Council has taken the final step towards securing financing that will help outfit Central Park (formerly Gilchrist Field) which is located between Earl Street and Virginia Street.

The town plans to finance the project through a general obligation bond not to exceed $2.25 million.

The Council adopted a final resolution at its April business meeting in which the debt will be financed over a 20-year period via C&F Bank at a fixed bank-qualified rate for that period of 3.99 percent.

The debt service is projected to be $163,000 annually (principal and interest).

Town officials say the purpose of the financing is for property acquisition for public purposes and for certain parks and recreation facilities, including planning, design, siting, landscaping, and equipping a community

An April 18 public hearing regarding Essex County proposed fiscal year 2024 budget drew a sparse audience and featured a single speaker.

The advertised budget of $59,397,580 includes a transfer of $1,265,835 from the county’s General Fund unassigned fund balance to create a balance spending plan.

The General Fund budget for FY 2024 totals $26,927,460 while the “Other” category (such as education, social services, and the Children’s Service Act) amounts to $32,470,120 in expenditures.

Proposed tax rates for calendar year 2023 include 73 cents per $100 of 100 percent assessed value for real estate and mobile homes (unchanged), and $3.50 per $100 of 100 percent assessed value for automobiles, light trucks, and motorcycles (25 cent decrease).

During the public hearing, Tappahannock resident Rob Wright — who is employed by the King and Queen County School Division — addressed proposed local funding of the Essex School System.

Local spending for the Essex School Division is $7.5 million, including grants, which results in level funding from fiscal year 2023.

The school system faced a funding shortfall of $831,574 (primarily due to a reduction in state revenues) before ultimately adopting a spending plan at an April 13 meeting.

“I’d like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the educators in Essex County,” said Wright, whose 15- year professional career has been in the education field. “I feel a strong affinity for them. It’s a tough job and it’s only gotten harder over the past five years.”

Wright said issues such as mental health and social media addiction require additional support for teachers and students.

He said there is a need for the employment of mental health professionals in schools, smaller classroom sizes, and more reading and math specialists.

“Most importantly, we need fully staffed schools with licensed teachers in every classroom,” he remarked.

Wright asked that the school division be “fully funded” for FY 2024 and future years.

He said use of ESSER (Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief) funds to balance an education spending plan is not an acceptable measure.

“I feel this is not a great solution for a couple reasons,” Wright stated. “Essex needs to continue to raise teacher salaries. Increasing teacher salaries with temporary funds would be a non-starter. You need to be able to sustain these increases year-to-year. Funding positions with money that will run out next year will make it hard to hire for these positions. If I see a position is funded with grant money that will run out next year, I’m going to look elsewhere.”

As a compromise, Wright suggested the supervisors maintain the personal property tax rate of $3.75 and use additional revenue created by that rate for the school system.

“If we don’t locally fund Essex schools, we are going to see teachers, staff members, families and leaders leave which is only going to exacerbate the situation,” he said.

Speaking to the Rappahannock Times following the hearing, Board of Supervisors Chairman Rob Akers said the county’s spending proposal includes funding that has been requested by the school division.

“We have not made a cut to their budget,” he said. “We are trying to maintain their request.”

Other proposed tax rates for Calendar Year 2023 are:

$4.00 per $100.00 of 50% Retail assessed valuation for aircraft, boats, and RVs ($2.00 effective rate):

$4.00 per $100.00 of 75% Retail assessed valuation for large trucks and trailers ($3.00 effective rate);

$1.20 per $100.00 of 50% Original Cost for business personal property, machinery & tools, and farm machinery. ($0.60 effective rate);

$3.75 per $100.00 of 5% Wholesale Value for merchants’ capital ($0.1875 effective rate);

Vehicle License Tax – $40 for cars, trucks, and motor homes, and $25 for motorcycles;

Business License Fee – $30 for all non-retail businesses located outside Town of Tappahannock;

Cigarette Tax Rate – $0.40 for each package containing twenty cigarettes; $0.02 for each cigarette contained in packages of fewer or more than twenty cigarettes sold or used within Essex County;

Transient Occupancy Tax – anticipate 5% of total room charge, effective date July 1, 2023. parks and recreation area on the three acre property.

The funding will assist with the purchase of playground equipment, multiple picnic pavilions, entertainment structures and covers, restroom facilities as well as related administrative and financing costs.

The closing on the financing was slated to take place April 21.

Work at Central Park is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2024.

In his report to Council, Town Manager Eric Pollitt noted the following:

• The town will receive $1,321,950 in U.S. Fish and Wildlife federal grant funds for the Hoskins Creek project. These funds will go towards the development of transient boating amenities such as concrete floating docks, a fuel station, and restrooms. The town will be required to match $598,696 for a total project cost of $1,814,229.

The earliest construction is expected to start on this phase of the project is spring of 2024.

• The Tappahannock Main Street building (former town office/police department facility) will start to have exterior improvements performed once materials arrive.

The improvements include replacement siding, windows, trim, shutters, and doors. Landscape work will be performed along with removal of unsightly trees and plants behind the building.

• Tennis Courts Inc. of Aylett is scheduled to convert the existing two rear tennis courts at Central Park into three pickleball courts. The front court will remain tennis with pickleball striping.

• Town staff is working on launching the customer portal for the town’s utility system. Once the portal is live, the town will make an announcement to let customers know, Pollitt said.

Staff is discussing dates to host at least two informational training sessions at town hall for customers to attend and learn more about the benefits of the portal. One training will take place during the day and one in the evening. Staff will present the portal features at the May 8 Council meeting.

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