Tensions mounting with $47.2 million school bond referendum looms in Lee County


LEE COUNTY, Va. - The last public hearing on Lee County's $47.2-million school bond referendum, which will be decided in November's election, was held Thursday night.

The school board is proposing a plan that would cut the number of county schools from 11 to 7. It includes building two new, bigger elementary schools in Jonesville and Pennington Gap. School board members say their plan puts the schools where the majority of the population lives. The board says conditions in the school have gotten to a point beyond repair, and the time to act is now.

"We have now acknowledge the problem with the schools," school board member Rob Hines says. "We can't just give up at this point we have to do something."

To fix the problems, the board is asking the taxpayers to carry the burden. They are proposing three plans which would increase the real estate tax rate anywhere between six cents and 14 cents. That equates to a maximum increase of $140 a year per $100,000 of assessed property. It would also raise the personal property tax rate anywhere from $0.70 to $1.25, meaning an increase of up to $125 per $10,000 of value.

"It really is a very doable, feasible idea to raise taxes just that much," Hines says.

Local business owners disagree. Norton Floral has been in business in Pennington Gap for 60 years, but the owner says she may have to consider closing shop if the referendum passes.

"We won't be able to pay it back," owner Joyce Williams says. "Our grandchildren will not be able to pay that back."

No one we spoke with argues with the school board's claim that the facilities need work, but some disagree with how the school board is going about it.

"I am for better schools but not to the point of raising taxes and making a hardship on the people of the county," Terry Grabeel, the owner of Grabeel's Supermarket, says. "I'm not for that."

"I'm not saying the schools don't need repair," Williams says. "But the key word is repair."

However, Hines argues it would actually be twice as expensive to fully renovate all the schools.

" It was going to cost more than this referendum," Hines says. "It's just not feasible for this county."

School board members say their fight for improved facilities will continue, even if the referendum does not pass on Tuesday.

"We are going to ask for an immediate meeting with the Lee County Board of Supervisors," Hines says. "Well go through with them what the problems are, what needs to be done, and try to come up with a plan to start making repairs."

For the exact details of the proposal, including which schools will be closed, which will be renovated, and the breakdown of all three proposed tax plans, click here.

Election day is Nov. 7.

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