By MIKE WILLIAMS
“We should be ashamed in Pulaski County.”
That was one of the messages delivered to the Pulaski County Board of Supervisors Monday night by School Board Chairman Timmy Hurst.
Hurst was one of several speakers who addressed the supervisors on the issue of a new, consolidated middle school for the county.
Hurst opened his remarks by saying it is important that the county’s citizens understand what the cost of a new middle school will be.
“We’re going through that process currently to determine that,” he said, noting there is a committee that is meeting regularly to determine the site for a new middle school and the cost. The committee, Hurst said, includes two members each from both the school board and board of supervisors, the country administrator, school superintendent and others.
“There is a cost to this, and a price to pay,” he said, adding there is also a price to pay if the school isn’t built. “We’ve paid that price for years,” he said.
Hurst pointed out that Dublin Middle School was built in 1951, and Pulaski Middle School was constructed in the 1920’s.
Hurst said he and the school board had toured other middle schools recently.
“I remember walking out of Page Middle School (Gloucester, Va.) and Dr. (Paige) Cash saying, ‘this is what a middle school is supposed to look like.’ We should be ashamed in Pulaski County. We should truly be ashamed that our children are going to the middle schools they are going to,” Hurst stated.
Hurst told the supervisors that he realizes the middle school is a difficult decision, but “we have to ask ourselves what are we going to invest in.”
Hurst said he reads the articles about pride in Pulaski County. “If you want to see the pride in Pulaski County, go to a play at the high school. If you want to see the pride in Pulaski County, watch our choir perform. If you want to see the pride in Pulaski County go to Snowville Elementary during their Veterans Day celebration. If you want to see the pride in Pulaski County, go to our schools and see our children,” he said.
“So I ask, where do you want to invest your money,” Hurst asked the supervisors.
“I have spent my life working in the investment business. I don’t know of anything I’d rather invest my money in than the children of Pulaski County,” he said.
“We talk about tax rates. It is important we understand exactly what that means in the form of dollars and cents,” Hurst said.
Hurst explained that the average citizen in Pulaski County pays taxes on property valued at about $140,000.
“When we talk about a 20 percent tax increase, that’s misleading,” he said. “A 20 percent tax increase is 20 percent of 64 cents [the current tax rate on $100 of assessed value]. That’s 12.8 cents.
“We don’t know what the middle school project is going to come in at, but if it comes in at $45 million, the cost of that is going to be about 11 cents,” Hurst continued.
He said that, based on the average $140,000 property value, the average county taxpayer would have to pay about $150 more in real estate taxes per year.
“That’s three dollars a week! Three dollars a week! Three dollars a week,” Hurst repeated for emphasis. “Forty cents a day. It will cost me forty cents a day to build a new middle school in Pulaski County. It’s amazing we’re even having this conversation. It really is, it’s amazing,” he told the supervisors.
Hurst said he understands that for some people in the county, 40 cents a day is considerable.
“But in this community this decision should be made by 30,000 people and not by five on the Board of Supervisors or even five on the School Board,” he said. “The people in the community deserve the right to make this decision.”
Hurst reasoned that most of the county’s current debt service payments are already on track to be eliminated over the next 10 years, meaning the impact of new debt service related to a new middle school will be lessened over the course of the ten years.
“You have a tremendous responsibility, you really do,” Hurst told the supervisors. “But your greatest responsibility is to the children of Pulaski County. I certainly hope you’ll give special consideration to our kids and to what they need – a middle school we can be proud for everyone to drive by and see, proud for everyone to come in a tour. And most of all to see the looks on those children’s faces the day that the new Pulaski County Middle School is open.”
Before completing his remarks, Hurst addressed the idea of a middle school renovation instead of new construction.
“We can do a $25 million renovation and we will have a $25 million renovation. We can make the decision to halfway do everything, and we can decide to do nothing. Those are the decisions that have been made over the last several years – to do nothing. Or, we can make the decision to do it right and pay the price for it and in the next 10 years that cost basically goes away,” Hurst said.
“You guys have a tough decision. We’re not asking you to make the decision, we’re just asking you to allow the citizens to make it,” he continued.
Following Hurst’s comments, County Administrator Jonathan Sweet explained that borrowing $45 million for a middle school, with an interest rate around 4 percent to 4.25 percent, will mean a payback amount “north of $78 million” on a 20-year note, which he said is “prudent.”
Sweet said he anticipates interest rates going up, and that the approach to such financing will also have an impact on the total cost.
“There are just so many variables,” he said.