Sunday, August 29, 2010
Build two high schools
- A great community needs great leaders
- A fresh vision for downtown Christiansburg
- The Black House will be an eyesore no more
- Del. Yost wants to clean up Virginia's laws
From the RoundTable blog
Montgomery County residents who oppose building a new high school in Blacksburg after the collapse of the gymnasium typically cite two reasons: Blacksburg is spoiled and taxes are bad. Neither excuse is very persuasive.
The school board recommends building Blacksburg's new school plus a new Auburn High School in Riner. The county could then renovate the old Auburn High School to house the middle school.
The board of supervisors has the power of the purse, though, and therefore has the final say. Building two new schools and renovating an old one would cost $124 million.
Paying off the bonds could require raising the property tax rate by 12.5 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Alternatively, the county could repair Blacksburg High School and leave Riner students in their crumbling buildings.
Blacksburg parents, predictably, argue for building a new Blacksburg High School.
Repairs and a new gymnasium would cost about $14 million but would only postpone the need for new construction.
If the old school re-opens, the town would have difficulty shaking the notion that students are entering a death trap, hardly a good selling point for the county.
One Blacksburg resident at Tuesday's board of supervisors meeting pointed out that the financial stars have aligned. Interest rates and construction costs are at historic lows, and the county has a great credit rating.
The case for construction is strong.
The two arguments against are not.
One says it is not fair for Blacksburg to get a new school. A popular belief that "Blacksburg gets all the good stuff" long has fueled opinions in some parts of the county. Riner has been waiting for years for its new schools. Now those rich, liberal snobs in Blacksburg should have to wait their turn.
The perception is false. Blacksburg gets no more good stuff from the county than anyone else. Indeed, the town's taxpayers and businesses subsidize their county neighbors.
The county did ignore Riner for too long. The county should have replaced the Auburn schools years ago. Yet predicating doing the right thing in Blacksburg on doing the right thing in Riner is unreasonable, especially when both projects are now feasible.
The other argument taps into mindless anti-tax fervor.
"It's liberal spending," one Elliston resident told supervisors. "It's not really your fault that the people want the money; it's just your fault if you give it to them."
That is a comfortable attitude after new schools in his remote corner of the county have already been built.
Another resident, a mother from Riner, is ready to look for divine intervention, or at least a sugar daddy.
"What we need is a miracle -- a grant from the federal government, a large donation from a wealthy donor such as Virginia Tech has received in the past," she said.
Yet she insisted Auburn needs a new school. At least the irony was not lost on her.
"I come to you this evening with my hand out, but my wallet closed, and I realize the duality of that request," she said.
Those who subscribe to such anti-tax rhetoric abdicate personal and civic responsibility. Someone must pay for core community services, including schools. It will say much about Montgomery County if residents are unwilling to do it. Turning to the federal government just shifts the burden onto other taxpayers.
The rest of the commonwealth and the nation long have subsidized the county. Tax rates are artificially low because taxpayers elsewhere send so much money this way. Only half of the county's budget comes from local taxes.
If the county wants to rely on miracles instead of residents, it could just buy lottery tickets. Friday's Mega Millions was up to $133 million.
Montgomery County is no longer the exclusively rural county it once was. It shares less in common with counties to the west than the east. Compared to the communities of the Roanoke Valley, the tax rate here is low. An increase for essential projects like these is warranted.
The full increase might not even be necessary. The county has surplus land it has not yet sold, such as the old Blacksburg Middle School. Proceeds could offset some bond expenses. Supervisors also could look at other taxes, including those on businesses.
Fortunately, even the full increase, according to county financial advisers, probably would not harm the county's bond rating.
The real question is whether residents are strong enough to work together for the good of the greater community or if they will succumb to parochial self-interest.