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Board to provide more information for sales tax increase

By Jim Buice
For the Clemmons Courier

After putting a resolution of support for Forsyth County to add a ¼-cent sales tax for teacher pay as an action item on Monday night’s agenda, the Clemmons Village Council deliberated on some of the wording and ultimately decided more education for voters on the matter should be the top priority.

So the board chose, by council consensus, to share more information on the village’s website and through social media platforms on what all is involved in the proposal, and to direct staff to craft another resolution for consideration at the Feb. 24 meeting.

The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and Forsyth County Board of Commissioners are drumming up support for the proposed ¼-cent increase of the county’s sales tax, which will be on the March 3 primary ballot, dedicated for teacher compensation supplements.

Angela Hairston, superintendent of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, and Ted Kaplan, a Forsyth County commissioner, appeared before the council asking for support of the resolution — as they are doing with all municipalities throughout the county.

Hairston said that Clemmons Elementary lost 8 of 49 teachers last year, and Clemmons Middle School lost 9 of 65 teachers, citing the county system having the lowest supplement of all the major urban districts in the state. The proposed tax would generate an estimated $13 million for the first year and an increase from $2,000 to $3,000 more per teacher per year.

“Approximately 15 percent of our teachers leave our district every year,” said Hairston, who added there are currently 40 vacancies in the county. “A lot of it is due to pay. A lot of it is they go right next door. So we must stop the bleeding. We need to retain our great teachers.”

Kaplan, who also spoke at the previous meeting, said that passing the ¼-cent tax proposal would lower the county property tax rate by one cent and “somewhat level the playing field” on getting more funding for schools — hopefully putting Forsyth to be “equal or better than Guilford. If we don’t pass this, we’re going to be forced to look at raising property taxes.”

Kaplan said that all funds generated through the sales tax proposal will go toward teacher supplements, and he clarified how they would be distributed, based on a question on the impact for Clemmons.

“The decision is up to school board,” he said. “We will give the school board a check. They will decide where it goes. Each teacher will receive a raise. The more seasoned will get a larger supplement than those that are new. However, they will all get dramatic increases in their supplement. It’s fair to say it goes all over the county. It’s by teacher, not by school.”

Councilwoman Michelle Barson led off the conversation of council members in a statement, saying, “While I would appreciate this council taking action on the resolution this evening and specifically, ask for them to support it, I value and appreciate that we were able to use our position as leaders in the community to bring the debate to the people and ask the tough questions necessary to educate our community on what the quarter-cent tax means.”

That led councilman Mike Rogers to ask about the wording of a phrase in the resolution that “urges all residents to vote for our teachers,” which led to a debate that while the council may support it, Rogers said, “We want our voters to make their own choices.”

Councilwoman Mary Cameron concurred, saying, “My personal opinion says that, ‘yes this is something I will probably vote in favor of,’ but I have a problem as an elected body telling our people how to vote on a certain matter.”

She added it might be a good idea to put it off and see what other communities do, and councilman Chris Wrights agreed.

“I support out teachers getting higher supplements, but I look at this as a school board issue and a county commissioner issue, and not a Village of Clemmons Council issue,” he said. “The county commissioners have elected to put this on the ballot to let the voters decide. Personally, I think Clemmons should stay out of it and let the voters decide.”

Mayor John Wait suggested it might be worth adding another edit about the property tax going up if the ¼-cent sales tax is not approved.

In her statement, Barson mentioned that are some point in the near future Clemmons will have to increase property taxes, and wanted to avoid the local residents getting hit twice.

All board members agreed educating the voters and informing the public of the facts was imperative.

In other highlights from Monday night’s meeting, the council:

• Heard from eight individuals in the public comments portion of the meeting with seven of them, many of them teachers, addressing the ¼-cent sales tax proposal for teachers — all in favor except for Allen Daniel, who said he would be a contrarian on the matter, preferring the current property tax method as being “the most steady source of income in the county.”

Jerry Hobbs, who is the HOA president for Caudle Place off of Peace Haven Road, said he was concerned about the dangers of those traveling north and turning into his development with the entrance coming after a blind curve going down a hill. He said that widening the road and having a left-turn lane would be a help but probably not likely to happen; however, he said that at least lowering the speed limit to 35 mph would slow down traffic.

• Heard from Steve Lander, P.E. from The Kercher Group regarding an update on the pavement condition for roads in Clemmons. His company did a pavement condition survey last year and found the 80.2 miles of asphalt streets in the village were rated “above average” compared with other towns in the state. His presentation included an overview of Clemmons continuing to spend in the $500,000 range a year (which is about what the village receives in Powell Bill funds) and where roads are addressed in doing a worst/first order, or upgrading to $825,000 a year for a higher maintenance level that could result in a potential $2 million in savings over a 10-year level in preserving the roads. Village Manager Scott Buffkin said that this topic is on the agenda for discussion at the retreat in March.

• Was presented a capital project ordinance amendment for the U.S. 158 Sidewalk and Tanglewood Greenway to an amended project budget for a “worst-case scenario” of $2,110,400 (STDPA Grant) and transfers from the General Fund  ($1,569,100) for a total of $3,679,500 — for consideration at the Feb. 24 meeting.

• Had a discussion on the Peter Clemmons House where Wait stated that the owner is exploring options to sell the property but also keep it historical with the hope that Clemmons could set aside funds to help maintain the preservation, including the property possibly being placed on the National Register. Buffkin said that the potential cost could be about $8,000 and that he is authorized as town manager to approve contracts up to $10,000. Cameron asked if the money could come from the hotel/motel tax fund, and Buffkin said he would check.

• Heard from Cameron about accepting the Kinnamon Village Loop road that comes off of Kinnamon Village Shopping Center as a village street. Buffkin said that the road was dedicated several years ago on the plat and there was a site plan condition that it be a dedicated right-of-way but there was no action taken by council at the time to accept maintenance of the road. Buffkin said that a resolution could be passed that the street would be accepted into the village’s system and that, as manager and being given that authority, he would be glad to accept any street right-of-way dedications going forward without having to come to council for action. The council agreed, and Buffkin said he would prepare a document for the next meeting.

• Approved a contract for $15,700 with Gibson & Company P.A. for Audit Services for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2020. The company, which provided the lowest bid in the previous process, replaces Cannon & Company, which is getting out of the government reporting business, according to Buffkin.

• Approved the sale of a 1996 Ford bucket truck, which was recently declared as surplus, to the Town of Atlantic Beach for $4,800.

• Heard from Shannon Ford in the marketing/communications report that the local Scouts collected 4,900 pounds of food last Saturday for their annual food drive that will go to the Clemmons Food Pantry as part of February’s Neighbors Helping Neighbors campaign. She added that the Clemmons Lip Sync Battle will be March 6 at 7 p.m. at Southwest Elementary School.