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Teachers push tax hike for higher pay

By MELINDA WILLIAMS

melinda@southwesttimes.com

Pulaski County educators came out in full force Monday night to support a real estate tax increase they feel will retain and attract quality teachers by improving pay and coverage of increasing health insurance premiums.

However, a few county citizens questioned the impact a rate increase will have on senior citizens and one pointed out she doesn’t have anyone to tax to pay her skyrocketing health insurance costs.

Almost a dozen people spoke during a public hearing on a proposed tax hike which has been advertised at 10 cents, but County Administrator Pete Huber said will likely be less, if any at all. Prior to Monday night’s hearing, county staff presented those in attendance with three proposed budget scenarios: one without any increase at all and the other two with four- and six-cent tax increases.

Huber said a 10-cent rate hike was “taken off the table” due to the fact a 10-cent increase most likely will be needed to address the county’s middle school needs and it isn’t “feasible to consider two back-to-back 10-cent increases.”

As a result, Assistant Administrator Robert Hiss said he took the county budget and went through it “line by line by line” over a couple of weekends and cut more than $266,000 from it. He said the proposed 2013-14 fiscal year budget is less than the current fiscal year budget. In fact, it is more in line with the 2010-11 spending.

Hiss and Finance Director Diane Newby provided the audience with a rundown on the impacts to county capital improvements (emergency services vehicles, buses and other one-time expenses) and school needs under each of the three budgets they prepared (no increase and four- and six-cent increases).

The impact ranged from no capital improvements (CI) without any increase to $1.36 million in CI, including a fire tanker, five sheriff’s office vehicles, an ambulance and fairgrounds improvements, with a six-cent increase.

Without an increase, the impact to schools included fewer security cameras and about half the amount of funds requested to cover employee health insurance premium increases resulting from the Affordable Healthcare Act. While a six-cent increase would provide the full $1.3 million needed to cover insurance premiums, more security cameras and three new buses.

Before taking public comments on the tax rate, Massie District Supervisor Andy McCready pointed out that while many localities had tax increases last year, Pulaski County didn’t raise its rate despite being mandated by the state to increase its contribution to the Virginia Retirement System.

“That was something that was handled by this board without an increase,” he said. “We were able to do that when other localities weren’t.”

Now, he said, the county is facing a 15 percent increase in health insurance costs. He added that 2-3 percent of that increase is said to be the result of “Obamacare,” although he believes the figure is actually higher than that.

McCready went on to point out that the state sends less money to the localities each year to fund education.

“Every board member is concerned about the citizens’ ability to pay (a tax increase),” he said. “There’s never a good time to raise taxes, but, like it or not, Pulaski County is an employer and we have to comply” with mandates placed on it by the state and federal government.

Pulaski County Education Association President Steven Lavery and several county teachers expressed concern to the board about what they described as a mass exodus of quality teachers from the county school system as a result of better pay and benefits in other jurisdictions.

Lavery said he had come prepared to support the full 10-cent increase, saying it has been years since teachers received a “substantial raise” and that many teachers are making less now than they were last year.

High school teacher Scott Peterson said he keeps being told “maybe next year” teachers will receive a raise, but it never comes. He said his own children are getting ready to start school and he questions whether he should join others in sending them outside the county for their education because he is concerned about whether Pulaski County is dedicated to its schools.

Bill Benson said he understands tax increases are hard on people with limited incomes, but added, “every year I’ve gotten an increase it’s been eat up by insurance.”

Pulaski County High School Senior Katelyn Dobbins told the board she didn’t intend to speak during the hearing, but she decided to because “I want to defend my educators.” She said she has grown up in the county and loves the area, but described PCHS as a “revolving door” of teachers, particularly in the math department where Lavery said 24 teachers have left.

It was Genie Zunic who brought up the impact a tax increase would have on the elderly living on fixed income. She pointed out increases in gasoline, electric and food prices have already eaten into the income of the “aging population” so “they cannot afford to have their taxes increased.”

Zunic said if the county school board wants to cut its budget, its administration building “is the place to look.” She said it was located in a small house next to the library when she was in school and “now it takes a whole bank building.”

Tina Pratt said she’s sympathetic with the school system employees because “I’m in the same boat,” but she pointed out she doesn’t have anyone to tax to pay her family’s health insurance premiums which have increased 400 percent since 2010. She noted that her husband had to take a pay cut so he, too, is making less now than he was in 2010.

“The school system isn’t the only place this is happening,” said Pratt, adding that it is “a hard pill to swallow” for her to pay more real estate taxes to fund someone else’s insurance premium increases.

E.W. Harless agreed with the supervisors that there’s going to have to be a tax increase, but he accused them of putting the blame on the back of the school system.

Debbie Mohay chided the board of giving money to The Crooked Road instead of using it to maintain the schools. She said the teachers deserve a raise.

Mark Capps merely promised he would “send home” during their next election cycle any supervisor voting for a tax increase.

After several teachers and Zunic spoke, Ingles District Supervisor Ranny O’Dell asked teachers in the audience how many of them lived in two-income homes. Several raised their hands. He indicated the teachers have two incomes to live off of while the elderly population often does not.

But Benson and others questioned O’Dell’s reasoning, saying the teachers also have more mouths to feed and Benson said he has sent $100,000 to Virginia Tech to further educate his children.

“I think it all averages out in the end,” said Benson.

The supervisors have two more budget work sessions (April 1 and April 8) before voting on the tax rate April 8.

 

34 Responses to Teachers push tax hike for higher pay

  1. Robert Yeatts Jr

    March 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Someone needs to explain to older wealthy citizens that a real estate tax does not even touch their monthly income. It’s not an income tax but rather a real estate tax. It’s not touching one penny of a citizens income but rather taxes wealth in the form of real estate which I might add, 1% of Americans own over 40% of wealth in our country. Therefore, the overwhelming majority of people won’t see any tax increase. Only the wealthiest Pulaski county citizens who own all the property and control all the wealth will see their wealth tax increase only slightly. People who talk about “living on a fixed income trying to pay real estate taxes” are completely missing the point. You only have to pay the tax if you are wealthy in the form of real estate. Why is this hard to understand? You only have to pay of you are one of the county richest citizens in the form of ownership of real estate. For those wealthy property owners whose taxes are so low now that they can afford to pay them with social security, they will finally have to make good productive use of the county’s real estate to use that income to pay their taxes. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

    The way it is right now is that some older citizens have millions of dollars in property and they are letting it just sit and rot while they pay taxes on it out of the social security check. With higher taxes they will have to make productive use of their land to pay the taxes so therefore higher taxes will drive them to finally sell that expensive property to someone who will use it to earn money and pay the taxes.

    At the same time, while I’m not from this area. I hear that the schools here are like jail. People just walk around trying to fight all the time. Kids text message and make phone calls from their desks in class. I’ve heard from many kids that they sniff pills off their desk in class. Pulaski county’s schools are a joke and to not raise taxes on these rich, old, selfish property owners is unethical and immoral considering that education of a population is a driving force for companies looking to move into southwestern virginia.

    • cat

      March 29, 2013 at 3:48 pm

      I certainly hope the above post was said “tongue in cheek”. What you are suggesting is forcing someone out of property ownership because you don’t like what they are doing with the property. Unless it is your property why would you even form an opinion as to what should be done with it? Why don’t we just put everything in one pot and divide it evenly…oh wait, that didn’t work out so well in the former Soviet Union. Unless your post was really a joke,you have the worst case of class envy I’ve seen in awhile. If your version of school life is spot on, throwing money at the problem won’t work. What you described is only corrected by decent parents, a good police force and a taser or two. BTW, I don’t like the car you drive, you should drive what I choose for you. Oh and your house bothers your neighbors, you should arrange things the way the think is best….

      • Robert Alan Yeatts Jr

        April 1, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        Hello Cat,

        To be honest, I wish I could rewrite that post and subtract the part about the schools and be more friendly in my explanation. But now that that’s said let me move on.

        I don’t support socialism like you’re implicating in your reply. Socialism exists when individual people don’t own property but rather the government owns the property.

        There are many advantages of private property ownership. It allows millions of people to make economic decisions rather than a central government. Those people make those decisions in self interest and it drives prosperity because only correct decisions are rewarded.

        I am not advocated eliminating private property rights. All I’m advocating is those who control the wealth paying a higher tax rate so that the children of those who don’t control wealth have somewhat more of a fair shot than they currently have.

        This is basically saying “I believe in an economic system based on merit, not birth.”

        By spending more money on education, the playing field is somewhat less unfair to those who don’t have wealthy, educated parents. Therefore, it matters less who your parents are. That creates a system of merit.

        I don’t know if the entire school system is as bad as I’ve heard but from what I’ve heard, it’s extremely bad.

        I apologize to anyone who I might have rubbed the wrong way in my initial post. We all let our emotions get the better of us sometimes. I’m sorry.

    • Bryan Martin

      March 31, 2013 at 8:59 pm

      Are you serious? “older wealthy citizens that a real estate tax does not even touch their monthly income.” Anything you have to pay for(taxes, food, insurance, etc)comes out of your income.

      You start out wanting an increase in taxes to support education, then trash the system in the end, just what is your position (You’re right, you’re not from this area).

      • Robert Alan Yeatts Jr

        April 1, 2013 at 1:23 pm

        Do you know the difference between income and wealth? Property taxes are a tax on wealth, not income. Wealth distribution is more skewed than income distribution in America.

    • Robert Alan Yeatts Jr

      April 1, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      It’s really unfortunate that you can’t edit or remove a post on this site. I only discovered that just now. I’d like to take out the last paragraph in my post and reword the rest of it but I can’t. So since I can’t, I’ll offer an apology to all those offended. I’m sorry for insulting the school system. Be it true or not, my comments were inappropriate and I apologize. I still believe in the core argument over taxes though and to hear a better explanation read some of my other posts which are much more friendly. Thanks everyone for understanding.

  2. Scott Peterson

    March 29, 2013 at 9:16 pm

    This is a misrepresentation of what I said at the meeting. Here is the complete text:

    “I am speaking this evening as a concerned citizen of the county, a concerned educator, but most of all as a concerned parent. I am concerned because I believe a lack of commitment to education is severely hurting our county. Over the last 15 years, we, as teachers have received barely any raise at all. In fact, any raise we have seen has been barely enough to off-set the rise in insurance every year. I have watched year in and year out as teachers have asked, begged, and pleaded our respective boards for pay increases. Every year ends with pretty much the same result-we are told “sorry, we really want to help you out. Maybe next year.” But “next year” always gets put off while surrounding counties have proven their commitment to education. We have gone far too long without a significant pay raise. This is having a disastrous effect on our schools as we lose many of our best teachers every year to other school systems for better pay and/or benefits. My department (Social Studies) has lost several teachers over the last 5 years for this reason. I know other departments at the high school and other schools in the county are having the same issues. We are losing good teachers, many of whom do not want to leave but feel forced to do so. We are also finding it hard to attract highly qualified replacements due to our lack of competitive pay. It is happening and has been happening for a while. If you haven’t noticed, then you have not been paying attention. From an economic standpoint a raise for teachers would have a positive impact on our local economy. The school system is the second highest employer in the county. A pay raise for teachers would put extra money in the school employees’ pockets to be spend right here in Pulaski County.
    As parents preparing to send our oldest child to Kindergarten in the Fall, my wife and I are very concerned about the “revolving door” of teachers in the county. There are a lot of great teachers in this county but, will those teachers be there as our children pass through? Or will we be left to hope and pray for adequate replacements? Will Pulaski County be as committed as other local school districts to providing our children with the best possible education? I know other parents are asking themselves the same questions and some are choosing to send their children to surrounding counties. We need to ask ourselves why aren’t parents sending their kids across borders into our district? I believe it is due to the perception that this county is not as committed to its schools as other local districts. I believe changing that perception begins with adequately compensating educators.
    Once again, I appreciate the work you do and I know these are difficult decisions. No one wants to see taxes increase. However, there are some things worth an increase in taxes. I believe that making a commitment to our young people to provide the best education possible is one of those. We can not continue with the status quo of not supporting pay raises for teachers and claim that education is a priority in our county. New buildings and technology are nice but, you can not have an effective education system without being able to attract and retain the best most experienced teachers. I do not like to compare education with business but business leaders will tell you that to attract the best in any field, you have to offer competitive wages. Business leaders will also tell you that a locality that puts education as a priority is more attractive to them as prospective employers. I hope that you will really look at the implications of the decision you will make and will decide that the long term health of our schools are worth the investment.

  3. Scott Peterson

    March 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    I feel the need to clarify. I believe the writer misrepresented what I was trying to say. I am NOT planning on sending my children to another district. I know Pulaski County has many great teachers. I have the pleasure of working with many every day. I just want to make sure we are able to keep our great teachers and that means being competetive with surrounding districts.

  4. Keri Peterson

    March 30, 2013 at 10:41 am

    I can certainly appreciate the concern that the older population of Pulaski County has about a tax increase. No one likes to pay more in taxes. However, the prices of goods and services do not stay static. As time goes by the cost of living and costs of running a large organization or business do rise. Schools just like businesses have to be competitive especially in this current economy. These days employers are looking for employees with a certain amount of base knowledge as well as the ability to reason and problem solve. It takes the best and brightest teachers to help parents develop and instill this type of skill set. We run the risk of being a county that has to hire first year teachers only to see them leave in three years (the point at which their teaching abilities have dramatically improved) to better paying counties. It is time to deal in reality and no amount of wishing that we could pay teachers less is going to change that reality. The bottom line is that teachers are people with families to support. They want their pay to be competitive just like any other working person. As loyal and devoted as they might be to Pulaski they have their own families and children to consider. If they can provide more for their families by working in a surrounding county eventually most will consider, and possibly make, the change as many others have already done. That is the reality.
    The times have changed and we as a county have to change our thinking or risk being left behind. Many of the previous generations of Pulaski Countians graduated high school and had numerous job options. That has changed with higher paying industrial jobs requiring at least an extra certification or two year degree. I also do not know many other four year college graduates (other than those in the local education profession) in my age range that have stayed and made careers for themselves in this county. As a parent of school aged children and a tax payer in this county, I implore the board and citizens to please consider the future of Pulaski’s kids. Industries want to move to communities that are willing to invest in education so that the employees graduate high school ready and able to think outside the box and provide important contributions to the company. It is imperative to the future of this county to be the leader in Southwest Virginia in this area. Our kids need opportunities. We can stay on our current course and see more and more of our kids move away never to return. Or we can be a leader and invest in our kids. One never gets anywhere being short sighted. Don’t forget that today’s current kids will form the tax base of the future and the better their opportunities are the more successful our county will be.

  5. Real World

    March 30, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    I understand teachers have a hard job educating children in todays society. Many jobs are under paid and involve a whole lot more work in more extreme conditions. What other job do you get to have all holidays, snow days, and all summer off? There is a lot of places the school board can cut. Why do we have programs that pay full-time teachers to babysit? The students that have been expelled due to their own actions, continue to drain resources and are not in a very structured program. They are just required to go to school and we pay full teacher salaries to have them watched. They get extended outside time, field trips, and the parents bare no responsibility. Who pays for this after they have been expelled for fighting, drugs, threats, etc.. Start using common sense, these programs are not needed because they have already been given the opportunity to go to school. We have plenty of places to trim the fat to pay for insurance, it just takes some tough decisions.

    • Reality Check

      April 1, 2013 at 1:20 pm

      Mr. Real World,
      It is so easy when one is looking from the outside to judge what the school district is doing. Perhaps you fail to realize that many programs are MANDATED and many mandates are underfunded by the state. That leaves localities to pick up the burden. Also, funding is tied to graduation rates etc. So, what would you do-expel the kids? This in turn would probably require the local board to raise taxes due to the loss in funding that the school system will be faced with because they now will be labled “failing” under our current system. There is no good solution, but being a county that pays it’s school employees less than the surronding counties is just asking for trouble. Don’t forget that ALL teachers in the surrounding counties get the same time off etc.. One must be competitive in order to attract great, experienced teachers. That argument would not work in any other job scenario, however it is easy to forget that when one is referring to teachers. SOme people think teachers should just be happy with what they get. That the joy of teaching children should just overide the fact that they can make more money in other places. Give me a break! Tell that to yourself next time you have the opportunity to switch to a better paying job. Pulaski’s teachers (many of whom grew up in this county) want to stay here but they have families of their own to consider.

  6. Peppy

    March 31, 2013 at 2:27 am

    Mr. Yeatts,

    Your argument is totally false. First of all, just because you own a home does not make one rich. It just means you have a job and were able to secure a mortgage. Most homeowners with a mortgage pay their semi annual real estate tax (along with the insurance) out of escrow. So tax is included in monthly payment. Those who have paid off their home have to pay the tax in its entirety when due. So, those on a fixed yearly income will have less to spend when their is a tax increase.
    The way you describe the justification of the tax is redistribution of wealth, plain and simple. Raise the tax to the point people cant afford the property so that it can be sold to those that can. The issue is spending. Municipalities spend and waste to much of our tax dollars. In Pulaski County we have built many new schools in the past ten years, yet there has been no cost reductions that should result from consolidation. Govt needs to curb spending and make cuts. As real estate has not appreciated in the past 5 years due to the over inflation of price in prior years, our reappraisal should decline in value, thus lowering our tax burden. However, powers that be will not let this happen because that would mean less revenue. So the fix is to increase the rate per thousand as opposed to increasing value. They got us either way.
    In regards to our schools, what you hear is way over exaggerated. I have two kids in school and none of what you said is true. I suggest if you are so unhappy in PC you should move out. Noone is making you stay.

  7. Andrew Cocke

    March 31, 2013 at 4:54 pm

    As much as I hate taxes, I agree with Robert Yeatts. I own a rinky dink house here in Pulaski, and if the full 10 cent tax increase in implemented, my taxes will increase about $35 per year. Or $2.91 per month. Okay, so I’ll buy two less sodas per month.

    However, mark my word, most slum lords here in Pulaski how houses that are worth half the value of mine (maybe $20,000 at the most), their taxes may increase by about $20 per year, but watch and see if they don’t use this as an excuse to raise rents $50 per month, or $600 per year.

    Greed run a muck. God have mercy on us for I declare we are not fit to inhabit this earth. And they say we are a “Christian nation”. pfft…

  8. Robert Alan Yeatts Jr

    April 1, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Well the path around that would be to allow an exemption on the first $1,000 in property taxes. Property taxes are the only way to tax the wealthiest Americans and spare the working class. There are citizens out there who own 50 – 100 houses and use them as rental property. Then there are about half of the population who owns no house at all or other property. Wealth distribution is more skewed than income distribution. Do you ever stop to think how wealth ended up in the hands of those who control it? It’s not always the case but usually it was passed down from generation to generation. If that’s the case for most property, then minorities are at a significant disadvantage. The only path for the working class out of poverty is education. That’s why education is financed through property taxes. It’s a tax on the wealthiest people to finance education that primarily benefits the public and most importantly, the children of parents who never gave them a fair chance.

    Don’t complain about property taxes. Be thankful you were blessed with whatever it takes to own property but be mindful of those that aren’t so lucky.

    You’re right about one thing. My argument is philosophical when it comes to wealth and education.

    But I’m right about the fact that people complaining about taxes who are living on a fixed income are missing the point of real estate taxes.

  9. Scott Peterson

    April 1, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    First of all, keep in mind the the education expenditures in this proposal are just a fraction of what it is being spent on. There are many other things that are being paid for with this tax increase….I’ve heard these same arguments for the last 15 years and we have continued to put education on the “back burner.” We need our community and our leaders to see the “big picture.” If we want our community to grow and prosper, we have to change the way we are approaching these problems. We need to find ways to attract people to our community and give them a reason to stay. Once that happens,the tax base broadens and there is more money to spend in the community. When people are looking to relocate to an area or a business is looking to move to an area, they want to move to an area with a good education system. For example, the new tomato company will be bringing some of their own people with them. We want those people to work and live in Pulaski County. One of the first things they are going to look at is the community’s committment to education. You can not have a good education system without being able to hold on to good teachers.

  10. William from Roanoke

    April 4, 2013 at 10:28 pm

    My neighborhood of high IQ, relatively law abiding, kinda responsible, mostly sober people sits next to some very poor areas full of refugees from around the world and many people for whom English is a second language .

    When I leave my bubble of prosperity and travel through the community, I see these folks working hard at all the tough jobs…landscaping and cleaning rooms at the local hotel, cleaning tables & floors at the local ski resort, working in the fields and manning the lines at the local food processing plants…and on and on. Entire extended families go for walks in the evening on the green belt in front of my home and we smile and a wave at each other. I admire their togetherness. They probably admire my neighborhood and hope to move on up some day.

    We can help by creating a tax code that rewards their hard work funds quality education.