By Frances Hubbard and Amy Jo Martin
2013 was another big year for the region, full of reasons to celebrate and reasons to mourn. The biggest stories included the tax dispute between King William County and the Town of West Point, as well as the addition of a new emergency services department in King Queen and the battle of the future of the historic high school in New Kent.
As the calendar pages turn and we roll into a New Year, let's take a look back at the leading headlines in 2013 from King & Queen, King William, and New Kent counties, as well as the Town of West Point.
King & Queen County
In March of 2013, the King and Queen County Board of Supervisors unveiled its fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget that included the addition of a new Emergency Medical Services (EMS) department, and the county's first paid EMS personnel position. King and Queen then joined other localities across the Commonwealth hiring paid emergency services to help cover daytime hours. The new department added $340,000 to the county budget, some of which was paid for by a two-cent real estate tax increase and the rest from the county's reserve fund. In the fall the county hired a second paid emergency services position. Officials said the new department is working well and grant funding has allowed for the purchase of new equipment.
King William County
In April of 2013, the King William County Board of Supervisors released an updated version of its FY14 budget that eliminated the long-standing split-levy tax system between the county and the Town of West Point (an incorporated town within King William County). At the time, officials believed the change would bring the county's tax system into compliance with state code. Board members insisted that no Virginia code deemed the split-levy system legal. The elimination came about after the Board discovered an "oversight" in the allocation of the revenue collected from the Personal Property Tax Relief Act (PPTRA), costing King William County Schools approximately $1 million annually for years. For 40-plus years West Point residents and businesses have been subject to a split levy, paying taxes to the Town (for the Town's services and school system) and to the County's general fund for shared services. Because of the separate school systems, West Point residents have been paying less county taxes than residents who live outside the town's corporate limits. The elimination of the split-levy caused taxes to drastically rise in West Point and forced Town Council to revisit its proposed budget. A legal battle ensued.
Town of West Point
On May 1, 2013, the Tidewater Review reported that the Town of West Point had filed two lawsuits against King William County following the county's budget actions that eliminated the split-levy tax system between the pair. The Town officially filed the lawsuits around noon Monday, April 29. The first suit sought an injunction that would prevent the county from moving forward with its plan to eliminate the split levy. The second suit claimed the Board of Supervisors violated the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by not properly convening or certifying a closed meeting on April 19. Judge Thomas Hoover later entered a Consent Order that required the Town and County to work together to resolve the tax dispute. The Town Council and Board of Supervisors held three joint meetings over three months, ending in September, and continued to work through October and November. The two finally drafted special legislation that will work its way through the General Assembly in January. The special legislation is expected to re-establish the split-levy tax system in a special tax district for the two localities. Changes to tax rates will be worked out during the FY15 budget process in early 2014.
New Kent County
The New Kent County historic high school project has undergone several drastic revamps throughout 2013, and going into 2014, the project's future is still uncertain. The renovation project, originally proposed several years ago, transformed the 20,000-square foot 1930s historic high school building into a new space for the Heritage Public Library. However, since then, the Board of Supervisors have thrown out several series of bids, both solicited and unsolicited, and the project has morphed into several options.
Instead of renovating the space for the library, the county decided in 2012 that it would renovate the school for new School Board offices. However, in March 2013, District 1 Supervisor Thomas Evelyn proposed that the historic school be renovated into an upper level elementary school in order to save the county from building a $28 million third elementary school. Evelyn's idea was well received by both boards. In response, the School Board offices were moved into the historic courthouse building in August. Though Supervisors and School Board members vowed to work together on the upper elementary school project, a breakdown in communication between the two boards during the summer halted the project and prompted Supervisors to take over the project on Sept. 28. According to District 5 School Board member Dr. Gail Hardinge, the School Board was disappointed in the decision, but anticipated it. "For over a year, the Supervisors have demonstrated that they prefer a PPEA [Public-Private Education Facilities and Infrastructure Act of 2002] process," Hardinge said to the Review in October. "We really were in a no-win situation."
Supervisors voted on Dec. 11 to accept an unsolicited PPEA bid submitted by Marengo Management on Nov. 25. By doing so, the county opened itself for other bids until Jan. 25.
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