A "vote yes" sign outside Stony Mill Elementary School. Photo by Grace Mamon.

The 1% sales tax referendum to raise money for school renovations was approved in Pittsylvania County Tuesday, after it failed narrowly last year.

The referendum passed by 930 votes, with 12,294 voting “yes” and 11,364 voting “no,” according to unofficial totals late Tuesday.

Martha Walker, who spearheaded the Vote Yes 4 PCS campaign, said she’s not surprised by how close the numbers were, although she was hoping to get 60% of the vote.

Chair of the Pittsylvania County School Board Calvin Doss said that the campaign was an “uphill battle.”

“With inflation, with the way the country is right now, I think we picked a really tough time to try to pass something that says ‘tax,’” he said during Tuesday night’s School Board meeting.
In an interview after the meeting, Doss said he understands that no one wants more taxes.

“I don’t really want more tax either,” he said. But this is a fair way to pay for necessary improvements in schools to keep students safe and “provide a better learning environment,” he said.

The 1% sales tax increase will raise about $3.8 million a year over the next 19 years. This money will go toward renovating and improving the county schools, some of which are more than 50 years old.

Over 19 years, the amount of time specified in the referendum, this will raise about $70 million, with $50 million going toward renovation projects and the rest allocated toward interest payments.

The sales tax doesn’t apply to things like groceries and medicines, and the revenue can only be used for school renovation and construction projects.

And visitors to the county also pay a sales tax, so the burden will not fall solely on residents of Pittsylvania.

Pittsylvania County Schools need a variety of renovations, including central air conditioning, energy-efficient windows and safety vestibules.

About half of the money that the tax raises will go toward safety initiatives like double entrances and eliminating mobile classrooms and detached gyms, said Superintendent Mark Jones.

A select number of localities in Virginia had the power to increase taxes to raise money for school renovations and improvements. Last year, Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton and Patrick counties and the city of Danville approved a similar referendum.

Pittsylvania was the only locality that did not approve the referendum in 2021. It failed by just 13 votes out of over 20,000 votes.

Walker said she believes this was because many people did not understand the referendum, and her campaign team was hindered in getting the word out by pandemic protocols.

But this year, Walker said the campaign had more time and manpower to educate Pittsylvania residents.

The approval is “outstanding,” Jones said after the meeting.

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org or 540-369-5464.