Full GHS renovation could result in 22¢ tax hike

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Feb 06, 2019 - 03:00 PM

A fully renovated Gloucester High School could potentially add up to approximately 22 cents to the county’s real estate tax rate—a move that several members of the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors have said they will not take.

In turn, county staff said it will be working to find ways to adjust the scope of the project in order to make it more affordable to taxpayers.

The supervisors discussed the county’s debt capacity and affordability of the GHS project during its meeting Tuesday night in the colonial courthouse.

County administrator Brent Fedors said there are several major factors that come into play when talking about debt service for the project. The first is the terms of borrowing and how those terms impact policy performance. The second is the scope of the project. “Right now, we haven’t talked about the size of the project except for what the school board has requested,” Fedors said. 

Stephanie Tinsley, Gloucester’s director of financial services, said a 15-year borrowing for a $75 million renovation would mean $9.3 million of annual debt service, which would levy a roughly 22-cent increase on the county’s real estate tax rate. Meanwhile, the debt service on a 20-year borrowing would be around $4.9 million, impacting the tax rate by 11.7 cents. Finally, a 30-year borrowing would bring $1.6 million in debt service and a 3.7-cent increase on the tax rate.

“So, basically what you’re saying here is equivalent to me have a credit card with a $500 limit and I want to go buy $10,000 worth of items with $500,” said York district supervisor Phillip Bazzani. “And I’m asking the taxpayer to fund the gap.”

The GHS renovations are part of the county’s Capital Improvement Plan for fiscal years 2020-2024. Though the renovations make up a large chunk of what is presented in the plan, the county and schools have an additional $20.6 million worth of other needs that need to be funded.

Therefore, Tinsley presented several scenarios. With the full $75.3 million renovation, total debt capacity for the plan would be at $95.9 million. If the board opted to fund $50 million for the renovation, total debt capacity would be at $70.6 million. Finally, if the board funded $30 million for the renovation, total debt capacity for the CIP would be $50.6 million.

“We’re talking historic tax increases,” Bazzani said. “Bricks and mortar don’t make the kids smarter. Teachers do.” He said that the board funded a large raise for teachers last year and added, “I can hear a swallowing sound from the teachers when they probably will never see a raise because of funding this school.”

During a public hearing on the CIP, several residents voiced their opinion that something had to be done with GHS and that quality schools are what people are looking for when deciding to locate to a community. Others said the county would be borrowing beyond its means to fund the full-scale project.